Far too often, children in the care of local authorities fall badly behind during their education. Only just over 50 per cent reach the average standard for reading at key stage 4 (ages 14/15), as opposed to 75 per cent for children as a whole.
The Government is quite rightly encouraging local authorities to consider boarding school places for children in care, some of whom thrive in such circumstances. Funding has been made available to cover the costs, but sadly few children in care are at the moment being given the chance of a free place at a state or independent school. Too many left-wing local authorities are rigidly opposed to boarding schools.
Alistair Lexden has raised the benefits of a boarding education for children in care in the Lords on a number of occasions. He did so again in an oral question on 21 June. He asked: “What progress has been made by the excellent schemes to provide places in both state and independent schools for children in care who would benefit from them — which not all children in care would? Should not all local authorities consider this option for their children in care with a completely open mind? How does the average annual cost of a place in a children’s home compare with that in a boarding school?”
Baroness Berridge, the Education Minister in the Lords, replied: “The noble Lord is correct. Through the Royal National Children’s SpringBoard Foundation charity, the Government are currently running regional pilots in the south-west, the north-east and London, to try to ensure that where it is in the best interests of the child the placement will be in a boarding school”. She added that “after looking at the regional pilots”, the intention was to extend the scheme throughout the country.
This is not the only scheme, though the Minister did not make that clear. Nor did she answer the question about costs, which would have shown that a boarding school is much cheaper than a children’s home. The career prospects of many children in care would be transformed if faster progress were made in securing boarding school places for them.