Page last updated at 10:36 GMT, Friday, 1 May 2009 11:36 UK

Cared-for children 'doing better'

Cared-for child
Results for children in care are improving slowly

One in seven cared-for children in England left school with five good GCSEs last year, a slight rise.

Two thirds achieved at least one GCSE or equivalent vocational qualification, the figures show, compared with 99% of other children.

But the results of children not in care have risen more quickly so the gap in achievement appears to be widening.

The government has written to local authorities to say more must be done to address this problem.

Almost 14% of cared-for children achieved five "good" GCSE grades, A* to C.

Their performance appears to be rising slowly and steadily - in 2007, 12.6% achieved five good grades, while in 2006 it was 11.8%.

But the gap between the performance of cared-for children and others has risen. It was 40 percentage points in 2001, but rose to 51 last year.

And the measure quoted in the government statistics does not include a good pass in either English or maths GCSEs.

Five good GCSEs including English and maths is usually the government's preferred measure, its standard benchmark of success by which schools are judged.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families says it does not collect those results for these children looked after by local authorities.

'Mountain to climb'

The figures reveal a marked difference in success between children from different parts of the country.

For example in Haringey, whose children's services have been scrutinised since the death of Baby P, cared-for children appear to do consistently better than those in other areas, with 23% gaining five good GCSEs in 2008.

Year on year, this government is failing in its duty of care
Tim Loughton, shadow children's minister

But in at least eight local authorities, no cared-for children achieved this.

In cities where the numbers of cared-for children are higher, they appear to do less well.

Some local authorities look after very small numbers of children, so year-on-year performance can vary greatly.

The figures cover children in England who had been looked after for more than 12 months in September 2008.

Of all children in care, just over a quarter had a statement of special educational needs.

'Left behind'

In a letter to all local authorities, Children's Secretary Ed Balls says: "Many local authorities have prioritised the support they give to children in care and the attainment results we published today show a continuous improvement over a number of years.

"However, we still need to go further and faster as the attainment of many of these children is far lower than that of their peers.

"Moreover, while it is true that the factors which cause these children to be admitted to care are significant barriers to learning, these factors alone cannot account for the size of the gap."

Shadow education minister Tim Loughton said: "Under Labour, children in care are being left behind.

"By not helping these vulnerable young people achieve basic qualifications, we are leaving them with yet another mountain to climb. Year on year this government is failing in its duty of care.

But children's minister Delyth Morgan said their policies were making a difference, though efforts needed to be redoubled.

"Children in care have higher levels of special educational needs than their peers and have often faced abuse or neglect in their lives. However, we know with the right support they can and do succeed," she said.

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