New act fails to lift care leavers’ poor exam performances

An influential government policy unit has warned that the new
Leaving Care Act has failed to address the poor educational
performance of teenagers in care in its first year of operation,
writes Derren Hayes.

New research by the government’s social exclusion unit has found
that in four out of five local authorities, children in care failed
to gain the target of one GCSE this academic year, with only a one
per cent improvement in the number of children achieving the
national average of five GCSEs or more.

Whilst there were the green shoots of recovery, with two thirds
of local authorities showing an improvement in academic performance
amongst children in care, this was offset by the remaining third of
councils reporting a slide in performance.

Of particular concern was local authorities’ failure to develop
a clear model of outstanding practice in meeting the requirements
of the new act.

The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 came into force last
October. It set out new responsibilities for local authorities to
reduce the number of children leaving care early, improve their
life opportunities, and ease the transition from care to
independent living.

For the research, the policy unit studied the educational
results of children in care at five local authorities over the past

Marcus Bell, SEU divisional manager for children in care, said
that if local authorities were “cracking the problem” results would
be better.

“We haven’t found an authority that is doing everything right,”
he added.

Bell said the research showed too many children were still
spending long periods of time out of school and being excluded;
care placements remained unstable; and waiting times for therapy
were too long – in one council there was a 30-month delay for child
and adolescent mental health services.

Despite the disappointing results, Bell said there was a greater
focus on education by councils, while social services and education
departments were working together better.

“But there’s still an issue of social workers not prioritising
children’s education sufficiently,” he added.

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