Looked-after Children

29 Nov 2005
House of Lords

Baroness Buscombe asked Her Majesty's Government: In the light of the White Paper Higher Standards, Better Schools for All what role the school improvement partners will play in ensuring children in care are integrated into the education system.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Adonis): My Lords, school improvement partners, who are replacing the old system of school link advisers, are largely serving or former head teachers of good standing. They have an important role in discussing with head teachers how effectively each school is performing for all its pupils. The department has issued guidance to school improvement partners, which includes questions about how schools support looked-after children and how their needs are fully reflected in school policies.
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he accept that the whole focus of the education White Paper is upon parent power and parent responsibility? That is good as far as it goes, but what about all those thousands of children who do not have parents prepared to engage? What about the children in care—or looked-after children, as they are now called? The Minister knows that they receive scant attention in the White Paper, so can he assure the House that during the course of any consultations on this issue in 2006 the Government will seriously consider practical measures that can genuinely improve their life chances?
Lord Adonis: My Lords, we do not accept that looked-after children receive scant attention in the White Paper—a whole section is devoted to them. However, the noble Baroness makes the important point that looked-after children require the active engagement of local authorities as their corporate parents in all fields of their activity, including education. That is why we will be issuing guidance very shortly to local education authorities on how they should fulfil their duties to looked-after children.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, in the light of the greater autonomy to be gained by schools, what leverage do school improvement partners and the local authorities that appoint them have in persuading schools to change their admissions policies where those schools are found not to be admitting the correct number of children in care?
Lord Adonis: My Lords, the code of practice currently requires schools to have regard to the need to give first priority to looked-after children. We will be laying regulations before the House next month that will place on all schools, including foundation schools, voluntary-aided schools and community schools, a requirement that they give first priority in their admissions to looked-after children. I believe that we already have very robust protections in place for looked-after children and that we will have fail-safe protections in place after the regulations have been laid.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if children are to thrive in their education, they need two things—love and success—and that, sadly, far too many children in care lack both? How will the Government seek to ensure that these children, whether integrated or otherwise, receive care that is real and not just notional?
Lord Adonis: My Lords, my noble friend makes a very important point about the needs of looked-after children. In the guidance, we will be requiring local authorities to ensure that they have in place personal education plans for all looked-after children so that they can develop to their fullest potential. We will also ensure that no care placements are made where there are not education placements to go alongside them and that, where an emergency placement is made, an education placement should be arranged within 20 days of that placement. Many of the wider issues to which my noble friend referred relate directly to the quality, status and support of the social work profession, which provides the corporate parenting for so many looked-after children. We are seeking significantly to upgrade the quality of the social work profession.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, in the light of is earlier reply to the noble Baroness, will the Minister confirm the Government's awareness of the Church of England's advice to its Church schools to put looked-after children at the head of the queue when considering admissions?
Lord Adonis: My Lords, I am aware of that advice. We believe that it plays an important role in respect of Church schools.
Lord Elton: My Lords, I think I heard the noble Lord use the phrase "corporate parenting" twice. Is he aware that that is very close to an oxymoron? Corporate care is, I think, an oxymoron. What is being done to give these individual children individual adults who care for them individually?
Lord Adonis: My Lords, we have extensive measures in place o promote foster parenting. That is the most important area in which we are seeking to meet the noble Lord's point.

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