Attainment gap for looked after children “unacceptably wide”

31/05/2012

Some of Scotland’s most vulnerable children continue to fall behind in education despite measures being put in place to support them, according to a report published today by the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Culture Committee.

Scottish Government figures show that levels of attainment for many looked after children, in terms of their exam results, are very low in comparison with other children. While 56% of school leavers gained five or more qualifications, only 4.7% of children looked after away from home and 0.5% of children looked after at home achieved the same results.

Committee Convener Stewart Maxwell MSP said:

“We are all aware of the challenges that looked after children face. Since devolution there have been a range of policies aimed at improving the educational attainment of such children. However, it is clear that the current system for supporting looked after children could be improved and that the attainment gap remains unacceptably wide. In particular, the committee was told that those children who are looked after at home face particular disadvantages.

“During the inquiry it became clear that there is a sensitive and difficult balance to be struck between supporting families at home and intervening to remove children from harmful situations. That is why we have agreed to hold a further, detailed inquiry into this area.”
  
In addition to the commitment to holding a further inquiry, the committee made several detailed recommendations to address this complex issue including:

  • the particular needs of looked after children should be considered in the Scottish Government’s early years strategy and its national parenting strategy;
  • there should be a nationwide effort to ensure that volunteers can play a greater role in supporting looked after children, complementing the work of trained professionals; 
  • there should be a nationwide means of recording looked after children’s wider educational achievements, rather than focussing solely on their exam results; and
  • better training on the particular needs of looked after children should be provided to all relevant children’s services professionals. 

Background

Looked after children are those either living at home under a supervision requirement or those who have been placed by a local authority in kinship, foster or residential care.

It is estimated that there are approximately 16,000 looked after children in Scotland with nearly 5,500 children looked after at home

In an innovate approach to the inquiry, the committee held a debate in the Chamber before publishing its report in order to get the views and experiences of all Members. The committee also held a major event with those who work at the front line with looked after children, in an effort to get practical solutions to the problems faced by looked after children.

The committee also heard from a wide range of organisations during oral evidence sessions including Children 1st, Association of Directors of Social Work in Scotland and the Scottish Government.

The five key themes examined during the inquiry were:

  • Readiness to learn
  • Support at school
  • Implementation of existing policies and legislation
  • Joint working
  • Resources

Inquiry into the educational attainment of looked after children