Educational achievement is one of the key indicators of better
prospects later in life: a worthwhile, decently paid job; a lower
likelihood of committing a criminal offence; and a sense of
self-worth. The advent of school league tables means pupils now
routinely make the headlines every summer as new records are set
for GCSE and A level passes. The national GCSE pass rate is running
at about 98 per cent with nearly 60 per cent attaining grades A* to
C. Increasing numbers of schools, including some in disadvantaged
areas, now aspire to academic excellence.
Yet the vast majority of children in the care system still leave
education at 16 and at best move into poorly paid work. At worst
the care leaver gets caught up in a cycle of homelessness, petty
offending and poverty that lies in wait outside the school
True, the Children (Leaving Care) Act has helped to alleviate
the direst consequences for these children but for the most part
the legislation provides a belated safety net once the damage has
already been done.
So it is particularly worrying that government has lowered its
sights for children in care. New figures show that 41 per cent of
children in care obtained one GCSE or GNVQ pass last year, a long
way short of the government’s target of 75 per cent, and 4
per cent worse than in 2001.
Its response has been to weaken educational targets for children
in care; local authorities will now have another two years to bring
the numbers passing five GCSEs with top grades up to 15 per cent
from the current 5 per cent. And, for the first time, there is a
target which merely requires that children sit the examinations
with no mention of having to pass them.
It could be argued that the original targets, like many others,
were far too ambitious. But watering them down in this way sends
out the wrong message, namely that education matters less if you
are a child in care. The government should ask for more, not less,
and be prepared to pay for it.