Education: Children in care fall further behind peers

The government has renewed its efforts to improve the educational attainment of children in care after official figures showed the gap between looked-after children and their peers widened during 2007-8.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families has produced new guidance for schools and councils, after figures showed that while performance improved slightly for looked-after children, progress was faster among other children.

Last week’s figures showed fourteen per cent of looked-after children received five GCSEs at grades A* to C, up from 13% in 2007, however the proportion of all children achieving the same rose from 62% to 65%.

Widening gap at GCSE

While the proportion of looked-after children gaining at least level 4 in maths at Key Stage 2 rose from 43% to 44%, this increased from 77% to 79% for all children.

In English, Key Stage 2 performance for looked-after children was static, with 46% achieving at least level 4 in 2007 and 2008, amid a rise from 80% to 81% in level 4 attainment for all children.

The guidance, which builds on proposals in the DCSF’s 2007 Care Matters white paper, said children’s services directors and lead members needed to “focus relentlessly” on narrowing the attainment gap.

It reiterated plans in Care Matters for every council to appoint a “virtual school head” to be accountable for the attainment of children in care. Currently around half of councils have such a role.

The guidance said virtual heads should monitor pupil attainment and changes of schooling, ensure schools have information on looked-after children on their rolls and ensure children have one-to-one support where necessary.

One-to-one tuition

It said early evidence had shown that one-to-one tuition was “particularly effective” for children in care.

Last week’s figures also showed that educational progress for looked-after children will have to accelerate sharply to meet government targets on GCSE and Key Stage 2 attainment for 2011.

Ministers want 20% of looked-after children achieving five good GCSEs, 60% gaining at least level 4 in English at Key Stage 2 and 55% achieving at least level 4 in Maths.

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