SEVERAL thousand children in care who frequently leave school with no or very few qualifications may be given education targets under Scottish Office plans to beef up children's services, writes David Henderson.
Their education is often ignored because of their difficulties in units or foster homes. Many are excluded, others are regular truants and slip through the academic net, a conference on protecting children heard last week.
Figures from the Scottish Qualifications Authority reveal that 1,200 pupils a year gain no award at Standard grade and many are believed to be in care.
Gerald McHugh, senior Scottish Office official responsible for child care, told the conference in Perth organised by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and Who Cares? Scotland, that the education of children in care was an overlooked element in improving their fortunes.
But only three education establishments bothered to respond to last year's Kent Report on the protection of children cared for away from home, although there are more than 10,000 who do not live with their families.
The Scottish Office is currently reviewing local authorities' children's services plans but Mr McHugh emphasised that the progression of young people through the education system did not feature strongly in them. This was likely to be remedied when ministers responded next year.
Young people themselves say schools do not seem to pay much attention to their problems and that teachers are prejudiced against them. When young people are in difficulty, schools respond to the behaviour rather than needs and resort to exclusions, according to a report, Feeling Safe? It represents the views of young people in care and was published by Who Cares? Scotland.
Most young people report negatively on their time in units or homes, said Louise Margey, a young persons' worker. "Some say it's better than where they were. But, generally, young people say they are not listened to and it could be better."
Liz Barrett, a Who Cares? Scotland manager, said: "Sadly, many young people and children say they do not feel safe".
The report places bullying at the top of the list of difficulties. "Young people feel they should be able to tell staff and staff should act on that, " Ms Margey said.
One young person said: "If you're not part of the group, or a bit different, you get picked on." Another said: "The staff told me just to hit them back if I didn't want to be bullied."
The report points out that young people in care are the most vulnerable of all and easily susceptible to abuse. But their safety and care are often less important to authorities than making beds available.
The inquiry into long-term sex abuse at Edinburgh children's homes is due to report next month and is likely to raise similar issues.
Feeling Safe? costs Pounds 10, and is available from Who Cares? Scotland, Block 4, Unit C3, Templeton Business Centre, 62 Templeton Street, Glasgow G40 1DA. Tel: 0141 554 4452.