Looked-after children are slipping further behind their peers in employment and education, Ofsted’s annual report has shown.
The report shows that, although at 14% the number of children in care who have five GCSEs or more has increased, the gap has widened with other children, 65% of whom now achieve the same number.
Ofsted’s data from inspections in 2008 also showed that children and young people with a history of care are twice as likely to be convicted of a crime or subject to a final warning at work. They are four times as likely to be unemployed at the end of year 11.
For the first time, the Ofsted report has also included a section outlining themes common to those services the watchdog rates as “outstanding”.
The move is part of an attempt by Ofsted to help local authorities improve services by showing lessons that can be learned from high performers.
The findings emphasise the importance of good leadership and a clear and consistent focus on education. These include ensuring children get up in time for school, attendance at parents’ evenings and helping with homework.
“Though these are simple things that can be done, they are not found consistently and systematically in all placements,” the report states. “In one children’s home visited, daily attendance at schools was not the norm and only one in six children attended school regularly.”
The report highlights that training for staff to encourage education achievement and raise aspirations was insufficient in just under half the children’s homes and just over half the fostering services visited.
Other key factors in services assessed as “outstanding” include swift access to mental health services, a proactive approach to placement continuity, taking time to listen to children and involving them in delivering services for peers, and the availability of adequate housing for those leaving care.
However, the report was criticised by the Local Government Association (LGA) which called for Ofsted to “sign up to its own improvement plan” in order to regain the confidence of the public, central government and councils.
The LGA said the inspectorate had become too concerned about protecting its own reputation and placed a “disproportionate” emphasis on publicly highlighting weaknesses without adequately reflecting the good work that councils did. This encouraged child protection workers to be “excessively risk averse” and put even more pressure on already stretched services.
Ofsted social care development director John Goldup on a new beginning