Opportunities to narrow the achievement gap between looked after children (children in care) and their peers are being missed because too many of them do not receive good quality early education places, says research funded by the Nuffield Foundation.
A new report, Starting out right: early education and looked after children, by researchers from the University of Oxford and the Family and Childcare Trust warns that children in care are falling well behind children in the general population before they even get to primary school and this gap widens throughout their schooling and beyond. Only 18 per cent of children in care go on to achieve five GCSEs at grade C or above compared with the national average of 64 per cent, according to the government data. The report highlights numerous studies showing that high quality early education vastly improves outcomes for disadvantaged children. Previous research by Oxford University found high quality early education could boost GCSE results by as much as five grades.
The report reveals that the take-up of free early education places for two, three and four year olds is at least 14 per cent lower among children in care than for children not in care, and the research suggests that this is probably underestimating the scale of the issue. It suggests that local authorities, who are already required by law to monitor and support the educational progress of looked after children at school, should be legally responsible for their early years education as well. It also calls for better data monitoring on whether children in care are receiving free, high quality early education.
The team found that some councils are doing a lot to promote the early education of looked after children through ‘virtual schools’, a team of teachers and dedicated education professionals who work to support the education of children in care. However, the findings suggest that this is not happening consistently in all areas. The report argues that the lack of good quality national data reflects a lack of focus on how vulnerable children fare in the early years educationally before they start school. Already at risk of much poorer outcomes, many are at an additional disadvantage when they start school if they have not had good quality early years education, says the report. Interviews carried out as part of the study suggested that there is a huge range in the preparedness of preschools to meet the needs of looked after children, who may have had highly traumatising early experiences, and that the funding available to support this (the Early Years Pupil Premium) is not adequate.
Sandra Mathers, Principal Investigator from the Department of Education at the University of Oxford, said:
Claire Harding, Head of Research at the Family and Childcare Trust, said:
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Notes to Editors:
The research was carried out by experts at the University of Oxford alongside the research team at the Family and Childcare Trust. They contacted all 152 local authorities across England for an online survey on the level of early years provision for looked after children, and where responses were not freely given they followed up with freedom of information requests. They also carried out interviews with academics, charities, early education providers and foster carers, and reviewed existing national and international evidence. Children in care or ‘looked after children’ includes all children being cared for by the local authority and includes those with kinship and foster carers, as well as those in residential units.
About the Family and Childcare Trust
The Family and Childcare Trust aims to make the UK a better place for families. We are a leading national family charity in the field of policy, research and advocacy on childcare and family issues, with over 40 years’ experience. Our on-the-ground work with parents and providers informs our research and campaigns. We focus on the early years and childcare because they are crucial to boosting children’s outcomes throughout life and supporting parents to work.
About the Nuffield Foundation
The Nuffield Foundation is one of the UK’s best-known charitable trusts and was established in 1943 by William Morris (Lord Nuffield), the founder of Morris Motors. Lord Nuffield wanted his Foundation to ‘advance social well being’, particularly through research and practical experiment. The Foundation aims to achieve this by supporting work which will bring about improvements in society, and which is founded on careful reflection and informed by objective and reliable evidence.