A new government review suggests that children who have been in contact with a social worker at any time since the age of nine achieve on average two grades lower than their peers in each GCSE subject taken.

The review data puts the number of children in England who have been in contact with social services at 1.6 million.

In a press release issued by the Department for Education on 17th June, Damian Hinds, the Education Secretary said:

“Overall if you’ve needed contact with a social worker at any time since year 5, on average you are going to score 20 grades lower across eight GCSEs… We need to improve the visibility of this group, both in schools and in the system as a whole.”

He went on to say:

“We also need to improve our knowledge of what works to support and help these children. We must not lower our expectations for them – for these children it is more important that they can do their very best to make the most of their talents when they’re at school.”

The press release suggests that the link to social services and the lower grades at GCSE for children in care is directly correlated to the assumption that every one of these children are falling behind because they have experienced poverty, abuse and neglect.

The government also makes another clumsy assumption: that those children who have not had contact with social services are all being cared for adequately, and so their grades are not slipping.

If that were the case, there would not be an ongoing number of children being taken into care.

While the report or the data do not appear to have been made public (unless we’ve missed it, so please do let us know), the Education Secretary’s speech which he made at think tank Reform on 17th June, offers some more information.

The reasons for children who have experienced social services falling behind at school are far more complex than the government realises, and the child welfare system has played a significant part in adding further layers of disadvantage by providing third rate care for these children.

The government review offers several other insights including data that suggests that the average classroom has three children who have needed support from social services at some point in the last six years. The review also suggests that disadvantaged children do better in cities than villages.

The report coincides with the government’s announcement that it will put new measures in place to support disadvantaged children in schools. The package includes:

  • Improving the admissions process so vulnerable children can access a school place as quickly as possible
  • Mental health training for teachers and social workers
  • Better information sharing between councils and schools
  • Tackling causes of domestic abuse, drug and alcohol misuse, mental health, serious violence, and exploitation
  • Tackling off-rolling, absence and exclusions
  • Implementing Timpson Review recommendations

The Department for Education also said in its press release that the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers had narrowed by at least 9.5% since 2011, but does not give a reason for that reduction.

A statement in the release by Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation suggests that the reduction may be down to the Pupil Premium, a grant given by the government to schools in England to reduce the attainment gap for disadvantaged children.

As you might imagine, the Local Government Association has seized on the report, seeing it as an opportunity to push for more funding for its councils.

Until the government understands the extent of the issues and improves the workforce tasked with looking after these children, no measures put into place will make much of a difference.

Many thanks to Keith for alerting us to this development.

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