Proposal to send children in care to boarding schools is back on agenda

A controversial government proposal to offer boarding school places
to children in care has been revived.

Education secretary Charles Clarke is pursuing the idea after it
was raised at a meeting he had last month with Alistair Cooke,
general secretary of the Independent Schools Council. The pair will
meet again this month to discuss the plans.

First discussed last January, the idea gained momentum when
officials from the Department for Education and Skills met
representatives from the Boarding Schools Association to check its
feasibility (news, page 6, 23 January).

However, government interest then appeared to cool as subsequent
statements from ministers suggested that any decisions on the
education of children in care could only be taken by local

Adrian Underwood, director of the Boarding Schools Association,
said a directive or guidance from government encouraging local
authorities to consider using boarding schools as an alternative to
residential care would be needed if the plan was going to work.

He said boarding schools could improve a child’s chances of
performing well in exams and save councils money. It costs about
£20,000 a year to send a child to boarding school compared
with £100,000 for a residential care placement. However, a
spokesperson for the Department of Health said ministers did not
believe boarding schools would provide a “wholesale solution to the
problem of underachievement by children in care”.

The decision to revisit the idea has been welcomed by looked-after
children’s organisations as a way to improve the life chances of
children in care and offer many of them much-needed stability.

Phil Frampton, chairperson of the Care Leavers Association, said:
“As long as the placement was from entry to exit rather than the
child being shoved around it could offer children stability,
although councils would still need to offer proper advocacy and
counselling services.”

Maxine Wrigley, national co-ordinator for A National Voice, said
boarding schools could act as “buffers” that could prevent children
from going into residential care in the first place.

She said:”It could save councils money, which could be ploughed
back into better education for children in care. It could also
encourage more foster carers to come forward because the commitment
would be limited to holidays.”

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