Page last updated at 17:55 GMT, Tuesday, 10 March 2009

State boarding for care children

school class
The Tories want academies to take looked-after children as boraders

A new range of Academy boarding schools would be created by a Conservative government to improve the life chances of looked-after children in England.

Shadow schools secretary Michael Gove said such children's educational performance was "tragically poor" compared with that of others.

But state-funded boarding schools would offer quality education and care, he said in a speech to charity Barnardo's.

The government said the idea was remarkably similar to existing policy.

Mr Gove said he wanted to set up new state-funded academies so that academy providers could open schools with a residential facility "so that children in the greatest need can secure a placement which offers them the very highest standards of education and care".

Poor GCSE results

Mr Gove said only 12.6% of looked-after children got five good GCSEs.

"We know that looked after children can, however, flourish as fully as any other student in the right environment," he said.

"If they enjoy stability, if they are in a school with a critical mass of children geared to achieve, and if they are in an environment with structures, boundaries and superb pastoral care they can excel like any other student."

He said that better access to state-funded boarding schools would allow foster carers and family members "who couldn't cope otherwise" to look after children in the school holidays.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families said the idea was "remarkable similar to existing policy".

Schools Minister Sarah McCarthy-Fry said is was good to see the Tories "playing catch-up".

"Only last month we issued a major report showing that boarding placements can be the right option for some vulnerable children, and released funding for local authorities to explore it as an option.

"Back in September we also announced a multi-million pound expansion of places in the state boarding sector."

Academies in Wellington and Lincoln planned to have boarding places, she added.

'Indefensibly unequal'

Mr Gove went on to criticise inequalities in the current education system.

"We believe the current distribution of educational opportunity in this country is indefensibly unequal, denying children from poorer backgrounds the opportunities the wealthier take for granted," he said.

"Free-school-meal pupils make up around 13% of the entire cohort in each school year - yet they form under 1% of those securing the 'passport qualifications' for the top universities.

"Indeed the number of boys eligible for free school meals getting three As last year was just 65, while the number of boys at Eton getting three As was 175.

"And equally scandalously in the independent sector, which educates just 7% of children, more students got three grade As at A level than in the entire comprehensive sector."

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