The Minister for Education and Skills has launched a ‘consultation on raising the ambitions and educational attainment of children who are looked after in Wales’ in advance of the statement he is due to make during plenary on Tuesday 3 February.
Latest published figures show that 5,755 children and young people are being ‘looked after’ by local authorities in Wales in 2014, a figure which has increased by a third in the past ten years (4,320 in 2004). Local authorities have a statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of looked after children and young people, a role known as ‘corporate parenting’ whereby the parental responsibility moves from the natural parent to the local authority. When a child becomes ‘looked after’ by the local authority the local authority must have the same interest in the progress and attainments of looked after children as a reasonable parent would have for their own children. This includes supporting looked after children and young people during their education in order for them to achieve their potential.
Estyn’s recently published annual report referred to local authorities’ responsibilities for the education of looked-after children. It also refers to the many potential difficulties faced by looked after children including within their education, and that over three-fifths have a special educational need. They point to the fact that ‘generally, the performance of looked-after children becomes worse as they move through the education system and the gap between their performance and the performance of other learners widens too’. They point to the following statistics:
- By the age of seven, there is a 30 percentage point gap between their performance and that of other pupils (in relation to achieving the Foundation Phase indicator).
- Only 13% of looked-after children at 16 years of age achieve 5 GCSEs A*-C (including English / Welsh and Maths) compared with 53% of all pupils.
The 2012 report of the Auditor General for Wales: The educational attainment of looked after children and young people’ found that:
- The attainment of looked after children and young people was improving slowly but many were not achieving their potential; there was too much variation in attainment, and weaknesses in data hampered its evaluation.
- The policies and initiatives of the Welsh Government and local authorities had contributed to some improvement but they lacked clearly defined outcomes and whilst there was growing evidence of good practice, the delivery of support was inconsistent
- The Welsh Government and local authorities lacked shared delivery plans and had not assessed whether there was the capacity to achieve significant improvement.
- Improvement was undermined by weaknesses in corporate parenting and performance management although recent changes to increase regional collaboration may provide opportunities to achieve better outcomes.
Last week the Care and Social Services Inspectorate for Wales published a report: National inspection of safeguarding and care planning of looked after children and care leavers who exhibit vulnerable or risky behaviours.
Article by Sian Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service.