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WAO - Education of Looked After Children Slowly Improving
But many are still not achieving their potential, says Auditor General for Wales
The educational attainment of looked after children and young people is improving slowly but there is too much variation in attainment, inconsistent support and a lack of clearly defined outcomes against which progress can be assessed. These are the findings of a report published by the Auditor General for Wales recently.
Since 1999, the Welsh Government has introduced a number of policy initiatives, guidance and specific grant funding to support the education of looked after children and young people. Looked after children value education and some overcome upheaval and disruption, do well in school and go on to further and higher education. However, overall educational attainment remains low. The attainment of looked after children varies across Wales and is lower on some measures than elsewhere in the UK.
The policies and initiatives of the Welsh Government and local authorities have contributed to some improvement, but, whilst there is growing evidence of good practice, there is inconsistency between local authorities in services, arrangements and outcomes. The report says that a lack of clearly defined objectives and weaknesses in planning, performance management and corporate parenting is hindering progress.
Additionally, changes in data collection hamper the ability to monitor improvements in attainment and reduce scope for comparison across the UK. Statistics have revealed that the educational attainment of looked after children and young people is significantly worse than that of all children.
However, a new and potentially more effective framework for policy delivery is emerging. The Welsh Government has set out its proposals for greater regional and national delivery of education and social care. Additionally, local authorities are continuing to develop local planning partnerships. Together these developments provide a new framework with potential to develop clearer, co-ordinated strategies for young people with a focus on outcomes. The risk however, remains, that vulnerable children may not receive the necessary detailed and individual attention they require.
The report contains a number of recommendations for Welsh Government including:
To work with local authorities and the regional education consortia to develop a clear agreement about their respective roles and responsibilities;
To promote good practice in the education of looked after children and young people;
To improve the availability and reliability of data for monitoring outcomes for looked after children;
To improve the arrangements for assessing the progress of looked after children at a national level.
Auditor General for Wales, Huw Vaughan Thomas, said today:
"Although today's report shows improvements in the educational attainments of looked after children, it is concerning that many of these children are still not achieving their potential. Collaborative working by Welsh Government and local authorities is vital and the new framework for policy delivery will hopefully help to achieve a clear strategy so that children and young people get the best chance possible to achieve positive educational outcomes'.
'Looked after children' is the term used in the Children Act 1989 to describe all children who are the subject of a care order, or who are provided with accommodation on a voluntary basis for more than 24 hours.
Today's report notes that at 31 March 2011, 5,415 children and young people were looked after in Wales, a rise of five per cent on the previous year and of 20 per cent over the last five years.
The Auditor General and the auditors he appoints in local government are the independent statutory external auditors of most of the Welsh public sector. They are responsible for the annual audit of the majority of public money spent in Wales, including the £14 billion of funds that are voted to Wales annually by the Westminster Parliament. Elements of this funding are passed by the Welsh Government to the NHS in Wales (over £5 billion) and to local government (nearly £4 billion).
The Wales Audit Office mission is to promote improvement, so that people in Wales benefit from accountable, well-managed public services that offer the best possible value for money. It is also committed to identify and spreading good practice across the Welsh public sector.