HL Deb 31 March 2003 vol 646 cc107-8WA
Baroness Billingham

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps have been taken to fulfil the commitment in the Department of Health's public service agreement to review the target for the education of children in care, in light of the Social Exclusion Unit project on that subject. [HL2339]

Baroness Andrews

The Department of Health's public service agreement (PSA), published July 2002, included a commitment to review the target on the education of children in care, in light of the Social Exclusion Unit (SEU) project on that subject. Work on the SEU project is nearing completion, and we are now in a position to announce the new target, which is to improve life chances for children, including by substantially narrowing the gap between the educational attainment and participation of children in care and that of their peers by 2006.

This target will have been achieved if, by 2006, outcomes for 11 year-olds in English and maths are at least 60 per cent as good as those of their peers; the proportion who become disengaged from education is reduced, so that no more than 10 per cent reach school-leaving age without having sat a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) equivalent exam; and the proportion of those aged 16 who get qualifications equivalent to GCSEs graded A*—C has risen on average by four percentage points each year since 2002; and in all authorities at least 15 per cent of young people in care achieve this level of qualifications.

The elements of the PSA target relating to the level of education, training and employment outcomes for care leavers aged 19, the proportion of children in care who are cautioned or convicted and the under-18 conception rate remain unchanged.

In developing the target, the Secretary of State for Health has been keen to encourage action to support attainment by all children in care. This includes younger children, those who are able and have the potential to achieve at a high level and those with difficulties who need support to remain engaged with education at all.

The Secretary of State therefore welcomes the SEU's proposal that, as part of the existing planning process, individual education targets should be set for all children in care and that local authorities should monitor both the appropriateness and the achievement of targets by children in care. We will be consulting stakeholders on how best to achieve this.

In order that the target reflects the influence of the care system on attainment, it will apply only to children who have been in care for one year or more. Nonetheless, promoting the attainment of children who spend a shorter time in care is important. The Secretary of State for Education has therefore agreed to put in place arrangements to analyse data from pupil level annual school census in order to improve our understanding of outcomes for those young people who have spent any time in care. The results of this analysis will be to inform the development of future policy.

Copies of the technical note accompanying the new PSA target have been placed in the Library.