Children in care have
been let down

What can the Government do to improve their educational outcomes?


Published on Friday 8 July 2022

Published on Friday 8 July 2022

We launched our inquiry on Children's Homes in March 2021, as part of our continuing work on the issues faced by left-behind children. This time, we wanted to look into the educational outcomes of children in children's homes and how these can be improved.

We heard from a range of stakeholders, including the Children's Commissioner and the Minister for Children and Families. We also held a private session with four young people with experience of life in a children’s home. We are extremely grateful to them for talking to us candidly and powerfully about their experiences. Their contributions have formed an important part of our thinking.

Read on to hear what we found.

80,850 children were in care in 2021


The number of children in care in England has been increasing every year since 2008, and in 2021 rose to 80,850, the highest ever level on record. Research commissioned by the County Councils Network revealed that the number of children in care could almost reach 100,000 by 2025.

 Why is the number of children in care increasing?

This is what we heard:

  • fewer children have been leaving care over the recent years;
  •  local authorities have become better at identifying children who are vulnerable, bringing them into care;
  • the covid-19 pandemic placed additional strain on already struggling families, while rates of mental health needs and special educational needs among children have risen;
  •  spending on early intervention has reduced by 48% in the last decade.

The lack of post-16 funding


Just 7.2% of looked-after children achieved the grade 5 ‘good pass’ threshold in English and mathematics GCSEs, compared to 40.1% of non-looked-after children.

Research by the universities of Bristol and Oxford found that children in residential care scored over six grades less at GCSE than those in kinship or foster care. 

Pupil Premium Plus (PP+) Funding

Local authorities currently receive Pupil Premium Plus (PP+) funding of £2,410 per child in care, from reception age to age 15. This is vital funding used to improve education outcomes of looked-after children. But when the child turns 16, the funding stops. 

The lack of post-16 PP+ funding is a significant inequality given that an increased number of children are entering care later. As at March 2021, almost a quarter of all children in care were aged 16 or older.

It is incomprehensible that the funding is just turned off when children turn 16. Children in residential care – who tend to be older– are likely to be disproportionately affected by the lack of post-16 pupil premium.

Access to


According to the School Admissions Code, looked-after children must be given “highest priority” in oversubscription criteria. Under the Code, a local authority has the power to instruct schools to admit a looked-after child, even if the school is full.

What happens if a school refuses to admit a looked-after child?

During our evidence sessions, we heard that refusing to admit a looked-after child is a relatively low-risk process for a school. The are no sanctions for schools refusing to admit a looked-after child, and the appeals process can be extremely slow.

We also heard that some schools discriminate against children in care.

Getting looked-after children into the best schools

During our inquiry we heard that despite the law clearly stating that good and outstanding schools should be prioritised for looked-after children, children in care are in fact less likely to attend the best schools than their peers.

"When you try to place a vulnerable young person in a mainstream school you get a lot of pushback. Essentially, schools do not want to take these young people because they believe there will be a negative impact on their outcomes."
Patrick Ward, Chair, National Association of Virtual School Headteachers (NAVSH), oral submission to the Committee
"What we want to see are the good and outstanding schools asking to have the looked-after children […]. I think there is a leadership issue here."
Rachel de Souza, Children's Commissioner for England, oral submission to the Committee

Unregulated education

All looked-after children should be receiving full-time education in a Department of Education registered school. This does not always happen. Ofsted research identifies that of a sample of 2,600 children in residential care, 9% are in unregulated education provision, while 6% are not in education, employment or training. We heard concerns that processes for tracking looked-after children missing from education are insufficient – meaning that vulnerable children are falling through the cracks.

"I really wanted to go to school, and I asked. What I was told, after asking, was that I couldn’t go to school, but that the next best thing was to do it online on the computer. It was an alternative, but it wasn’t school."
Young person with experience of living in a children's home, from a private session with the Committee

The cliff-edge transition to
independent living


During our inquiry we heard that too often care leavers don't receive the support that they need during their transition to independent living.41% of care-leavers aged 19-21 are not in education, employment or training, up from 39% in 2020. 


Just 2% of care-leavers go into apprenticeships. The £4.81 hourly apprenticeship wage rate is prohibitive for young care leavers living independently. The £1,000 bursary introduced by the Department for Education for care leavers starting an apprenticeship is welcome, but is not enough to make apprenticeships a financially viable option for young care leavers living independently.   

Staying Close

Staying Close is a support program for young people leaving children’s homes. It helps them find housing, get into jobs or training and provides emotional support. The Department has been piloting Staying Close for the past 4 years. Independent assessments of the pilot have shown considerable benefits, including 75% reduction in eviction rates and 50% reduction in the proportion of young people not in education, employment or training. 

The lack of support for young people leaving residential care is deeply unjust.

Our recommendations


To improve the outcomes of children in care, we call on the Government to:

1.End the culture of impunity: hold schools accountable for refusing to admit looked-after children and introduce sanctions for schools who block admissions from looked-after children.

2.Extend Pupil Premium Plus funding beyond age 16 to ensure looked-after pupils are receiving the support they deserve to do well throughout their education.

3.Roll out Stay Close nationally, as the Minister agrees that it has produced very good evidence.

What happens next


The Government must now respond to our report.

Our report "Educational Poverty: how children in residential care have been let down and what to do about it" was published on Friday 8 July.

The Government has two months to respond to our report.

Detailed information from our inquiry can be found on our website.

If you’re interested in our work, you can find out more on the Education Committee website. You can also follow our work on Twitter.

The Education Committee scrutinises the work of the Department for Education, covering children’s social care, schools, colleges, the early years and higher education.

The updated membership of the Committee is available on our website.