Will the amendment to the Education Bill really benefit children in care?

Children’s organisations have given a cautious welcome to
a government Education Bill amendment which gives priority in
school admissions to looked-after children, writes
Simeon Brody.

New Asset  

The amendment, agreed in the House of Lords last week, will turn
what is currently guidance advising local admission authorities to
prioritise looked-after children, into a statutory

It will also expect schools to agree local protocols to ensure
looked-after children are found schools quickly outside the normal
admissions round.

The amendment was prompted by concerns that some schools were
attempting to bypass the admissions code of practice by shirking
responsibility towards what they considered to be potentially
disruptive pupils.

“Quick to label”

Children’s charity NCH’s senior public policy officer
Amanda Allard said schools were sometimes too quick to label all
looked-after children as disruptive and “sleight of
hand” to avoid admitting them was a widespread problem. As a
result, the educational achievement of children in care had not
significantly improved.

Pupils in care are 13 times more likely than other pupils to be
excluded from school and only 43 per cent of children leaving care
in 2003-04 had at least one GCSE or NVQ, according to government

“If they are ending up in the worst schools because they
are the only ones they can get a place in that’s not going to
help the general picture,” Allard explained.

Judicial review

The weakness of the existing code was demonstrated during a
judicial review of a case involving the admission arrangements of
London’s Oratory school in December last year. The judge said
that guidance did not have to be followed slavishly but was merely
something a school had to “have regard” to.

Martin Rogers, head of the Education Network, believes the
Oratory case could well have prompted the government to introduce
its amendment. He said it would clarify the legal situation but
argued the vast majority of schools followed the current code

Andrew Christie, director of Hammersmith and Fulham
children’s trust in west London, welcomed the new statutory
responsibility but said he would wait to see how much effect it had
on the ground.

“We know that admission policies can exist but that in
practice the circumstances that local authority children find
themselves in can still mean they find it very hard to get
admission to some of the more sought after schools.”

Because looked-after children often had to change schools
half-way through a year it made it more difficult for them to get
into popular schools, which by this stage would be full, argued



In response to this problem, the Education Network has called for
looked-after children to be prioritised in the same way as pupils
with a statement of special educational need. If a school is deemed
to be appropriate for an SEN pupil they must take that child,
regardless of whether they are full or not.
For both NCH and Barnardo’s the crucial element the amendment
does not address is whether schools feel they have the support and
resources to provide for children in care.

Barnardo’s principal policy officer Pam Hibbert concluded:
“In the worst case scenario if a school feel they have to
give priority and can’t refuse but don’t have support
mechanisms or the attitude is wrong, will that child

The Education Bill will get its final reading in the House of
Commons later this month.


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