Behind the headlines

The government’s social exclusion unit has warned that the first
year of the The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 has failed to
tackle the poor educational performance of looked after

Research by the SEU found that in four out of five local
authorities, children in care failed to meet the target of one GCSE
this academic year. And there was only a 1 per cent improvement in
the number of children achieving the national average of five GCSEs
or more. Councils’ inability to develop a clear model of
outstanding practice in meeting the requirements of the new act was
also criticised by the unit. The research said care placements
remained unstable and too many children were still spending long
periods of time out of school and being excluded. The waiting times
for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services were also too long.
The act came into force last October. It laid out new
responsibilities for councils to reduce the number of children
leaving care early, improve their life opportunities, and ease
their transition into independent living.

Bob Hudson, principal research fellow, Nuffield
Institute for Health, University of Leeds

“The educational attainment of care leavers is more a symptom of
their disadvantaged background than anything else, and it would be
naive to imagine the 2000 act could make a rapid impact. Addressing
educational underachievement is a long-term process that needs to
begin in the preschooling phase with a dedicated focus and proper

Phil Frampton, national chairperson, Care Leavers

“The government target of children in care gaining one GCSE, and
the consequent poor results, are a indictment of a system that has
failure stamped all over it. When a child is moved 30 times in 10
years, discussing educational attainment is ridiculous. New
placements often mean new schools, which is why government figures
show educational achievement declines with increased placement
instability. Without a major funding programme to provide stable
long-term residential care, and with it stable schooling, the
government will continue to fail in its duty to those in care.”

Karen Warwick, senior practitioner,

“There still appears to be an expectation of academic failure among
looked after children. Many children in the care system have had
their education disrupted because of school moves or exclusions. I
once worked with a girl who achieved well in her GCSEs. The
consensus view was that this child was particularly intelligent as
well as resilient to have passed her exams so well, because the
others in the unit were not sitting GCSEs, or were achieving poor

Felicity Collier, chief executive, Baaf Adoption and

“The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 is a vital piece of
legislation. However, I find the simplistic educational target
problematic. It fails to recognise the adolescents who start to be
looked after when they have already been excluded from school, have
failed to make educational progress and may be offending and
estranged from their families. For these young people, a GSCE may
be unrealistic at this stage in their lives, whereas counselling
and support will be vital. On the other hand, teenagers who have
spent a large part of their childhood in care should have
“corporate parents” who have much greater aspirations for them –
these children find the target insulting.”

Julia Ross, executive director of health and social
care, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham

“The research is disappointing because it shows we are failing
across education and social services. But it is not all bad news.
We have had some stunning results, with one of our care leavers
getting 10 GCSE grades, and for the first time, we can see signs of
really improving care leavers’ life chances. I am sending a
congratulations card to all the successful care leavers with exam

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