Academy schools that fail to take their share of looked-after children may have their government funding withdrawn under plans being drawn up by the Department for Education and Skills.
Children’s charities believe the proposal, revealed by junior education minister Lord Adonis in evidence to parliament’s education and skills select committee, is a sign that the government wants to ensure that academies do not shun children who are more likely to have poor educational outcomes.
Lord Adonis told the committee during a session on special educational needs that academies would have to ensure that looked-after children were given first priority in admissions. They would also be forced to admit looked-after children during the academic year even when they were full, he added.
The requirement would be enforced through funding agreements, which, he said, would be preferable to regulating academies’ performance in the area through statute. The DfES was unable to provide further details at this stage.
Under regulations introduced last month, looked-after children will be given priority in state school admissions from 2007-8.
But charities are worried that city academies, with their admissions criteria controlled by mainly private sponsors, are unwilling to take the most disadvantaged children.
There are 27 academies in England but the government wants 200 to be operating in disadvantaged areas by 2010 to replace schools judged to be failing.
Maxine Wrigley, national co-ordinator of A National Voice, the charity for children in care, praised the DfES for “waking up” to the educational needs of looked-after children.
She said it was important for the government to focus on the recurring problem of mid-year admissions for children often moved from area to area in an educational year.
Jackie Sanders, campaigns manager at The Fostering Network, said: “When academies were proposed there was concern that they wouldn’t take the most disadvantaged children. We are pleased with anything that would give more opportunities to this group.”
Barbara Hutchinson, interim chief executive of Baaf Adoption and Fostering, also welcomed the announcement, but said the charity continued to have concerns over the level of advocacy available to looked-after children in an education system increasingly influenced by parental choice.