Children in council care should get money to pay for after-school activities, a think tank has suggested.
Extra-curricular activities go with better attainment, research says
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has drawn attention to the dire educational prospects for looked-after children in England.
It said that if councils put aside £20 a month for children in care, it would cost the average taxpayer £1.32 a year.
The money could then be spent on after-school activities associated with better educational achievement.
Councils would make an initial deposit of £200 to open the account, then £20 a month with a £500 lump sum at the age of 16.
The IPPR put the total annual running costs at £27.4m.
It suggested that access to the special accounts should have to be via a "gatekeeper" care worker who, it said, would stop the money being used for drink and drugs.
Any that was not spent would accumulate interest and serve as a nest egg for adult life.
The institute's head of social policy, Jim Bennett, said: "Rightly, we hear a lot from the government about the importance of good parenting but the sad truth is that the state does a pretty bad job too.
"Looked-after children are taken into care because they have had the worst luck in life and they are most likely to leave school with poor exam results.
"With the government encouraging schools to extend their hours and offer more after school clubs, there is a real worry that looked-after children will lose out because they won't be able to pay to access those activities."
Some 80,000 children are in care at any one time.
Last week a report from the charity Barnardo's said they were written off by the education system, with nearly eight out of 10 gaining no qualifications.
The IPPR said the average parent spent more than £9,300 on their child's hobbies by the time they were 21 and another £6,700 on their other leisure and recreational pursuits.
Research for the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) had shown that children doing out-of-school activities and study support did better than expected in terms of their educational attainment, attitudes and attendance.
The IPPR suggested looked-after children could use some of the cash in their proposed accounts to pay for:
If a child left care, the money in their account would be frozen and transferred into their Child Trust Fund when they became 18.
- after-school clubs, such as science or computer clubs
- activities like rock-climbing or martial arts
- treats which many of their peers take for granted, like an MP3 player or a pay-as-you-go mobile phone
- essentials such as driving lessons
A spokesman for the DfES said: "We are actively looking at what more can be done to improve the life chances of children in care, and we will shortly be consulting on a wide-ranging set of proposals to achieve this."