More independent school places needed for children in care – Zahawi

The minister for children and families has announced a £500,000 scheme to encourage private schools to enrol vulnerable children in care

Independent schools should create more places for children in care, the minister for children and families has said.

Nadhim Zahawi used a speech at the Association of Directors of Children’s Services Conference to say he wants “more [private schools] to come forward” and play a bigger role in “helping to raise outcomes for these vulnerable children”.

The minister has established 10 new teams to help children in the care system join some of country’s most prestigious schools. £500,000 has been earmarked to support the scheme which the government is hoping as many as 1,000 schools will join.

We have been frustrated by the slow pace of progress given the number of HMC schools that volunteered to engage with this and other similar initiatives – Mike Buchanan, HMC

Although he recognised the good work undertaken by a number of schools, Zahawi said: “I am clear that this cannot be put off any longer, and I will accept no less.”

Announcing the funding, he said: “This is now about providing resources to councils to identify and place children where it is right for them. Together, we can and must increase access, improve opportunities and foster aspirations and belief in what looked after children can achieve.”

Chairman of the Independent Schools Council, Barnaby Lenon, said: “The independent education sector is committed to playing its part in our diverse national education system to help give more children the best start, regardless of background. We are working with the government and, although there is a limit to what we can do, independent schools are providing life-changing bursaries and working ever-closer with our state school partners to unlock new educational opportunities.”

Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) executive director, Mike Buchanan, said: “This model is one we know already works well to improve outcomes for these children through our experience of working with third-party organisations such as the Royal National Children’s SpringBoard Foundation.

“Supporting the academic and personal development of the most vulnerable in our society is a challenge that HMC have been doing quietly for years. It is not simple, nor large in scale, nor guaranteed to be successful, but it is a core element of HMC schools’ charitable purposes which require close working with many partners including local authority commissioners.

“If anything, we have been frustrated by the slow pace of progress given the number of HMC schools that volunteered to engage with this and other similar initiatives. We look forward to working together on this pilot project to show its value to the young people involved and to encourage, in due course, its expansion. We praise the minister for spearheading this important initiative.”

The announcement comes after a 10-year project run by the Boarding Schools Partnerships and Norfolk County Council found that looked-after children who attended boarding schools did better at GCSE level than their peers that did not. Two-thirds of the children placed in independent schools by the scheme also came off the local authority’s at-risk list.