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01 DEC 2015

Nuffield Foundation research finds foster care protects the education of children in care

Nuffield Foundation research finds foster care protects the education of children in care
Cat Marshall

A research study launched on 30 November 2015 has shown that children in foster care make better progress at school than children in need (children living with their families while receiving social work support).

Researchers tracked the progress of thousands of English schoolchildren and analysed government data to compile their results. They also interviewed young people in care, foster carers, teachers and social workers.

The results show that children in foster care achieved GCSE results that were, on average, at least six grades higher than children in other forms of care.

Josh Hillman, Acting Director of Education at the Nuffield Foundation, said that the research can be used to ‘set clear agendas for policy-makers, those working in the education and care systems, and other researchers’.

Minister of State for Children and Families, Edward Timpson MP, said ‘we’re not complacent about the unique challenges that children in care often face at school. That’s why we’ve put in place a comprehensive package of support – including the introduction of the Pupil Premium Plus and compulsory Virtual School Heads to champion their educational attainment. We’ve also changed the rules so foster children can remain at home until 21 and have recognised long-term fostering as a placement in its own right, providing young people with greater stability as they prepare for independence and adult life’.

Other key findings:
  • Overall young people in care who changed school in Years 10 or 11 scored over five grades less than those who did not.
  • Each additional change of care placement after 11 years resulted in around one-third of a grade less at GCSE.
  • For every 5% of possible school sessions missed due to unauthorised school absences, young people in care scored over two grades less at GCSE.
  • For every additional day of school missed due to fixed-term exclusions, young people in care scored one-sixth of a grade less at GCSE.
  • Young people in care with similar characteristics who were in special schools at age 16 scored over 14 grades lower in their GCSEs compared with those who were in mainstream schools; young people in care in pupil referral units were also around 14 grades lower than those in mainstream education.
For more information visit the Nuffield Foundation website.


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