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Education for children in care in England held back by ‘system failures’ | Admission to school

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A report by MPs found “numerous unjustified systemic failures” behind the educational disadvantage of children in care and called for Ofsted to punish academies that illegally turn them down.

A report by the Select Committee on Education accused the government of failing to act as an “assertive parent” by sending children in care to the best available schools, resulting in children in care “getting the educational experience that we, of course, will find it unacceptable for our own children.”

MPs highlighted the difficulties many looked-after children face in accessing good or outstanding schools Englandand also detailed how some academies try to keep them out, despite the high priority of places.

“There should be a clear sanctioning mechanism for schools that consistently refuse or delay the admission of children in care. The lever for such accountability should be to influence the school’s Ofsted decision,’ the report concluded.

Only 7% of children in care get good grades in maths and English at GCSE, compared to 40% of the rest. Deputies noted that children in residential care often have lower academic performance than those in foster care.

Robert Halfon, chairman of the committee, said: “The least the system can do is its legal duty to ensure that looked-after children are prioritized for good and outstanding schools that can meet their needs, which are often more complex. than [for] children living with their parents.

“But many abdicate even this responsibility, using the children’s own circumstances against themselves with impunity.

“Ofsted ratings should collapse if councils and schools don’t give these children the equal opportunities they deserve.”

The committee backed a clause in the schools bill going through parliament that would give councils more powers to force academies to accept children in care. It said the Department for Education should introduce new powers “without delay” and collect data on schools trying to block entry.

England’s admissions code gives children in care priority school places, meaning they must be admitted before other students. But while local authorities can order supervised schools to accept children under supervision, they currently have no power over academies, except through an appeals process that can take months to complete.

One of the witnesses told the committee: “There are no sanctions for [academies] denying or blocking school enrollment altogether if they know they are in a legally vulnerable position. They will continue to do so until there are sanctions against it.”

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Antoinette Bramble, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People’s Board, said: “We want every child in care to be able to go to the best school for their needs, so we are continuing to push for councils to be empowered to refer academies to look after children. as promised in the schools white paper.’

Rachel de Souza, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said the report’s findings echoed her own concerns that care provision was “patchy and inconsistent”.

“More needs to be done to support children in care, particularly those in unregulated care, those who move regularly and those who do not have access to good or outstanding schools,” de Souza said.

The committee was also highly critical of the use of unregulated educational institutions and boarding homes, and the lack of data available to government and local authorities on how many children were receiving unregulated education. Councils that rely on unregulated education should also be sanctioned by Ofsted through inspections of councils’ children’s services, MPs have recommended.

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