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The Educational Progress of Looked After Children in England: Linking Care and Educational Data

There were 69,540 looked after children in England at 31st March 2015, an increase of 1% compared with 31st March 2014, and of 6% compared with 31st March 2011 (DfE, 2015). Seventy-five per cent of these children and young people were living in foster placements. Children who are, or have been, in care are one of the lowest performing groups in terms of educational outcomes internationally (Flynn, Tessier, & Coulombe, 2013). In England in 2014, data from the Department for Education (2014) showed that at the end of Key Stage 1 (age 7 years), 71% of children in care achieved the expected level in reading; in writing the figure was 61% and in maths, 72%. This compares with 90%, 86% and 92% of all children in those subjects respectively. At the end of Key Stage 2 (age 11 years), the gap widens: 48% of children in care reached the expected academic level in English and mathematics, compared with 79% of all children.

The attainment gap continues to increase as children get older, so that 6% of careexperienced people attend university, compared with just over 50% of young people in the general population (DfE, 2015). Young people transitioning from care also have poorer employment prospects and health outcomes than the general population and are over-represented in the homeless and prison populations. Less is known about the factors that facilitate or limit educational progress for these young people. Little detailed statistical analysis beyond the DfE (2011, 2013) contribution has been undertaken in England to pinpoint the key factors associated with looked after children’s lower attainment although such work is better established in the US and Canada.

In this context, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the Rees Centre, University of Oxford and School for Policy Studies and Graduate School of Education at the University of Bristol collaborated on this study to identify key care and educational factors that are associated with the progress of children in care from the end of KS2 to the end of KS4 and attainment at KS4. The main research questions were:

What are the key factors contributing to the low educational outcomes of children in care in secondary schools in England?

How does linking care and educational data contribute to our understanding of how to improve their attainment and progress?