Exam results obtained by children in council care in England have improved, latest official figures show.
The government is nowhere near its targets for children in care
Some 44,700 children were in care in the year to September 2005. Almost 11% of them obtained five good GCSEs, against 9.4% the year before.
But on average more than 56% of all children have that level of attainment.
Nine per cent of the "looked after" children aged 10 or over had a criminal caution or conviction - almost three times the rate for all children.
At the end of their 11th year of schooling, 61% remained in full-time education compared with 75% of all children.
A fifth were unemployed after leaving school compared to 6% of all school-leavers.
The Department for Education and Skills says that by 2006, children in care should be achieving school exam results which are at least 60% as good as those of their peers.
This would mean 31.8% of children in care achieving five or more good GCSE grades.
A spokesman said: "The improvement in the percentage of looked after children getting good GCSEs is encouraging but we are not complacent. That's why we intend to consult on wide ranging proposals to achieve improvements in the life chances of this group.
"These proposals will build on the steps we have already taken - such as the new duty on local authorities to promote the educational achievement of looked after children - to help close the gap between the educational outcomes of looked after children and their peers."
Regulations now give children in care priority when it comes to school places. These would be strengthened, he said, so schools could be ordered to admit the children even if they had no spare places.
Shadow Children's Minister Tim Loughton said: "Despite a lot of hot air and legislation on looked after children from the government, the plight of our young citizens in care remains as desperate as ever - the slope into crime and prison remains as slippery as ever for them.
"The state makes for a very bad parent and unless the government treat the worrying high number of looked after children as a high priority, then we will continue to condemn them to a downward spiral of poor education, poor health, poor jobs and a criminal record."
The Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman, Sarah Teather, said: "It is so disappointing that the government continues to miss its own modest target for educational achievement among looked after children.
"These young people are the most vulnerable in our society. It is vital that they get a good education and a good set of qualifications so they can lift themselves out of the cycle of underachievement."