The educational attainments and progress of children in public care
There has been concern, since the 1970s, that the education of children in the care of local authorities had been severely neglected. Reports into social services for children, such as Utting (1991), recognised this problem, and in 1994 a joint guidance circular was issued by the Departments for Health and Education. As recently as 1995, however, a joint report issued by the Social Services Inspectorate and the Office for Standards in Education stated that the care and education systems, in general, were still failing to promote the education of children in care. The Social Exclusion Unit's report (SEU, 1998) again recognised the problem and set targets for educational attainment. It was, however, the Health Select Committee (House of Commons, 1998) who drew attention to the pointlessness of setting targets when the Government itself acknowledged that there was a lack of data on the educational circumstances and achievements of children in care. This action research prOgram set out to address this lack of data by collecting educational information on a significantly larger scale and in a more comprehensive way than any previous study (i.e. by covering all looked after children of school age in one authority); by being longitudinal (i.e. to follow the progress of individuals for up to four years); and by incorporating care histories of the young people. It was designed with the aim of informing practice and raising attainment. The major findings were that children in care underachieve at all stages of their education and that disproportionate numbers have special educational needs; have poor school attendance; and are excluded from school. The analysis also indicated that the relationship between care experiences and academic attainments was more complex than suggested by the targets being set for local authorities in National Priorities Guidance.