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Monday, 5 March, 2001, 17:51 GMT
School system 'fails' children in care
Female teacher at a blackboard
The report found deficiencies in the education system
The provision of education for children in care has come under fire in a joint report by education and social work inspectors.

The study, of five local authorities last year, found that children in care were more likely to leave school with fewer qualifications.

Scottish Education Minister Jack McConnell said the report by HM Inspectors of Schools (HMI) and the Social Work Services Inspectorate (SWSI) caused him grave concern.

The Learning with Care report found that, in March 1999, there were 11,191 children being looked after by local authorities in Scotland.

Boy in library
The report found gaps in the care system
It said children in care accounted for 13% of all school exclusions while representing only 1% of the classroom population.

The authors said local authorities had a duty to ensure that where children were removed from their own homes, the care provided should be better than that which they were previously receiving.

This was covered under Section 16 of the 1995 Children (Scotland) Act.

However, the report stated: "It is clear from this report that the education of looked after children is not as good as it should be.

"In particular, the inspection highlighted too many instances where local authorities have failed to carry out their duties to ensure that all children looked after away from home have care plans and placement agreements as specified in the legislation.

"Effective implementation of the legislation will help improve the joint working between education and social work services that is crucial to meeting the educational needs of these children."

'Considerable improvements'

It acknowledged the "positive steps" taken by some local authorities to support and promote the education of looked after children.

However, the report said: "Nevertheless, considerable improvements still need to be made before all looked after children receive the quality of education they have a right to expect."

Mr McConnell said: "This report shows that some of our most vulnerable young people are not being supported by the formal education system.

Jack mcConnell
Jack McConnell has written to council leaders
"It is unacceptable if that by being in care children get a poorer start in life - indeed for many, their circumstances should mean the opposite.

"It is time for action to tackle these failures."

Mr McConnell said he has written to the heads of all of Scotland's local authorities asking them to outline what provisions they have made available and given them six months to respond.

The report followed detailed inspections of five local authorities - Aberdeen City Council, South Lanarkshire, Stirling, Highland and West Dunbartonshire - as well as questionnaires being sent to all local authority education departments and social work services in Scotland.

'Educational achievement'

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities said it welcomed the report.

Education and children's issues spokesman Danny McCafferty said: "The report reinforces what local authorities have been saying on this subject for a number of years.

"While on the one had it points to continued deficiencies in the relationship between educational achievement and children in care it also commends the joint progress made by education and social work services on this issue.

"We in local government are aware of the problems outlined in the report and in the interests of the young people concerned do not seek to minimise these.

"However, local authorities remain best placed to seek the solutions to these problems."

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