Editorial comment: Care-leavers and exam results

The educational statistics for children in care are notoriously shocking. If all goes to plan images of teenagers celebrating their GCSE results will again adorn the nation’s media on this week, but the party’s guests will be an exclusive crowd. They will be the ones to whom the gilt-edged invitations were sent, the ones who believed in themselves and had the confidence to be a part of it. As for the rest, including the overwhelming majority of looked-after children who find themselves among the GCSE also-rans, the invitation never seemed to be seriously meant.

Barnardo’s has rightly taken the opportunity to highlight the problem in its aptly named Failed by the System report. It contrasts the expectations of the in-crowd with reality for care leavers who are education’s outsiders, finding that 79 per cent of young people who had been in care had no GCSEs or other educational qualifications when they left school and only 11 per cent had five or more good GCSEs. This waste of human capital is not one the parents whose children have never been near the care system would recognise: in an NOP survey commissioned by the charity, just 6 per cent of them expected their children not to pass any GCSEs this month.

Why is the system failing? The reasons are rehearsed in the report; among them are bullying, multiple care placements, the absence of anyone to take an interest in their schooling, and attending nearly as many schools as they have had school dinners.
None of this is new and the failure of government targets to make much of an impression accounts for the green paper on looked-after children planned for the autumn. Under the previous set of targets one-fifth of children in care were supposed to attain five good GCSEs last year, twice as many as did so.

The fact is that the state as parent of children in care still lets them down. Many looked-after children are capable of academic achievement and want to work hard for it, but they are hampered by a culture that too often puts bureaucratic convenience first and educational success a distant second. Many of this week’s smiling teenagers have another story to tell, one in which exam passes were the product of stability, encouragement and even love. It’s what care ought to be like.

Additional reading
Education chasms prompt reform call

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