Still failing the care children

4th April 2008 at 01:00
The dream of a good education for all Wales's looked-after young people hasn't happened

Looked-after children in registered independent (RI) schools are not receiving a good education, despite a hard-hitting campaign spanning a decade.

In the report Education in Children's Homes, published last week, Estyn says "corporate parents" are neglecting the educational needs of young people in care in Wales, particularly those with an additional learning need or challenging behaviour.

In the worst cases, young people do not get out of bed in the morning because staff cannot motivate them. Others dictate their activities to teachers, often shopping or cooking, instead of pursuing academic studies.

High absenteeism rates in RI schools are also endemic but they are not monitored effectively.

The findings were this week condemned by Deborah Jones, chief executive of charity Voices for Care Cymru, who has fought for better outcomes for children in care in Wales.

"Is it any wonder looked-after children are at the bottom of the league tables rating achievement and positive outcomes?" she added.

Writing for TES Cymru (page 29), Ms Jones also reveals that 63 per cent of children in care are leaving school without a single qualification, and a third of looked-after children in Wales had moved school at least once.

There are 95 private schools servicing children's homes in Wales. Most take in young people with challenging behaviour or special needs. Many of them are also from England.

Young people either go to state-maintained school, a registered-independent school, pupil referral unit or receive home-tutoring. Some have no education at all.

In the report, inspectors say the quality of education depends on the organisations that run children's homes.

Incentives to learn are used by some RI schools, such as outings and extra pocket money. But many looked-after children still don't have a personal education plan - despite it being an Assembly government recommendation. There are also not enough creative opportunities within timetables for looked-after children, especially music, which can be therapeutic.

The chief recommendation for local authorities by inspectors is to maintain better contact with schools, especially in the placement of special needs pupils.

The woeful lack of education offered to children in care was first exposed by The TES seven years ago. The Assembly government failed to hit a 2003 target of three-quarters of Welsh care-leavers finishing school with at least two GCSEs, and has since abandoned its national targets.

Dr Bill Maxwell, chief inspector, said: "Pupils' progress must be monitored better and their efforts more clearly recognised if we are to motivate these young people."

Comment Cymru, page 29.

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