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Fragmented System Holds Looked-After Children Back From Education

Fragmented system holds looked-after children back from education

By Janaki Mahadevan Friday, 16 March 2012 cypnow.co.uk

Government policies intended to support looked-after children into further education are failing because of a fragmented system that confuses both young people and professionals, The Who Cares? Trust has warned.

Report calls for more to be done to help children in care thrive in education. Image: Lucie CarlierReport calls for more to be done to help children in care thrive in education. Image: Lucie Carlier

The charity’s latest report, Open Doors, Open Minds, claims that despite significant improvements in legislation and statutory guidance, the culture and practice within the care system does not consistently support children in care and care leavers to achieve in education.

Based on interviews, focus groups and surveys of more than 300 professionals and young people, the report found that while schemes such as the pupil premium, 16 to 19 Bursary and new tuition fee arrangements offer more financial support to children in care, implementation has been left to local bodies, leaving a “postcode lottery” of support.

Natasha Finlayson, chief executive of The Who Cares? Trust, said: “The government has brought in a range of policies that aim to help open up opportunities for these young people, but unfortunately a misplaced determination to leave everything to individual schools, colleges and universities has undermined their efforts, exacerbated the postcode lottery of care and created new barriers to learning.

“We want to see swift action to ensure that the additional resources in the system are put to effective use so that being in care doesn’t mean failing in education.”

The report found that half of professionals working with looked-after children and care leavers had not heard of the pupil premium while only a quarter said they knew a lot about it.

However, more than three-quarters of professionals reported knowledge of the 16 to 19 Bursary, but only 12 per cent thought that looked-after children and care leavers in their area had enough information about the replacement for the education maintenance allowance.

The charity also found that while the government had introduced access agreements to ensure that vulnerable groups, including care leavers, could still access university despite higher fees, there was extremely wide variation in the support for care leavers provided by universities.

An analysis of access agreements, undertaken as part of the project, revealed that the top 10 universities in England were less likely than other universities to say that they provided support for care leavers. It also found that a lack of data about recruitment and retention of care leavers prevented some universities from setting meaningful targets for improving access.

The charity is now calling for greater clarity and information about funding for further and higher education for young people and those who work with them. It has appealed to the government to provide central direction on funding for looked-after children’s education to guarantee consistency across the country. According to the report, this should involve strengthening guidance and the collection of better data on the progress of looked-after children and care leavers in further and higher education.

The report also calls for the strengthening of the role of the independent reviewing officer as well as that of the virtual school and head teachers, who are appointed by local authorities to promote the educational achievement of all looked-after children in their area.

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