Open Forum – 2 November

Boarding schools are ready to play a larger role in the education of children in care, writes Hilary Moriarty

For children in care, problems in school can be the last straw. Such children often fail dramatically in school. Some are overwhelmed by their personal situation and school seems unimportant. Others find a change of carer also means a change of school.

Loss of friends affects young people far more than we used to realise. For a teenager, mates are more important than marks. Long-term targets, such as achieving good grades next year, or getting to university three years hence, are irrelevant when they feel life is too grim to get out of bed for.

The green paper on children in care tries to address this, recommending that children in care do not move schools between years 10 and 11, and proposing £500 a year for social workers to spend on improving a child’s educational experience.

Just as innovative is the suggestion that the use of boarding schools for children in care could be expanded.

Some children who might have gone into care already find their way to boarding schools through organisations such as the JET (Joint Educational Trust), which may offer financial help and liaise with schools over bursaries or scholarships.

But boarding could be the right answer for other children, who might think it simply wasn’t an option. Boarding schools offer an excellent education, coupled with 24/7 expert pastoral care. They also offer the kind of stability which a child may need when there is turmoil at home. Even if care during the holidays changed, their education and relationships with mates could continue.

Boarding won’t be the solution for every child, not least because the child must be keen on the prospect. Nor is funding clear at the moment, though state boarding schools offer an economical solution.

But early investment in young people can mean a huge saving later, as the child grows into confident, qualified adulthood, avoiding the pitfalls which now trap many children most needing our care.

Hilary Moriarty is national director of the Boarding Schools’ Association

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