System still fails children in care

3rd June 2005 at 01:00
Teachers' negative stereotypes of looked-after children a factor in failure to improve numbers achieving good GCSE passes

Targets to improve the exam results of children in local authority care look certain to be missed, researchers have warned.

Just 59 per cent of children in care managed to sit at least one GCSE or equivalent exam last year. The target for 2006 is 90 per cent.

And less than a fifth of councils are hitting the target for 15 per cent of children in their care to obtain at least five good GCSEs.

A five-year study by the Institute of Education, University of London, has followed 129 young people in care who won places at university. It blames negative stereotypes of young people in care among teachers, as well as the general public for the low achievement rates.

But the study also found that inspirational teachers were often responsible for encouraging them to apply for university.

Margaret Quigley, one of the researchers, said: "It takes someone to look beyond the possible difficult behaviour and have a real understanding of what a young person has gone through to even arrive at school." She said more than 60 per cent of children in care had been severely abused or neglected by their families.

Good foster parents can transform children's educational opportunities, the researchers found, but some offered little or no support. One foster child was forced to eat different food in a separate room from the rest of the family.

Many children also suffered a great deal of instability. One girl told researchers she had moved 33 times. But it was children in residential care who faced the biggest obstacles. Just one of the 129 young people in the study went from a care home to university.

Researchers heard how pupils often had to study while fighting broke out around them.

The authors suggested that modules on the care system should be included in more teacher training courses.

Local authorities, as the corporate parents for young people in care, should act like real parents and try to get places in the best schools for their children, they said. Most of the young people in the study attended schools in the bottom half of the league tables.

A Department for Education and Skills spokeswoman said new guidance due in July was intended to help raise the educational achievement of 16-year-olds in care.

Going from University to Care by Sonia Jackson, Sarah Ajayi and Margaret Quigley. Email: ioe@johnsmith.co.uk

* joseph.lee@tes.co.uk

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