Achievement at Key Stage 4 of Young People in Care

Felicity Fletcher-Campbell, Tamsin Archer

08 June 2003

Research report available to download from DFE

A variety of reports from government agencies, voluntary agencies, researchers and the young people themselves have established that the education of young people in the public care is a cause for concern. There is a remarkable degree of consensus as to not only the difficulties but also the solutions. Following a range of developmental work on policy and systems, attention has now focused on the outcomes of statutory schooling for these young people - in particular, their attainment at key stage 4. Data show that the average performance of young people in care is significantly lower than national averages for the age cohort and that a disproportionate number of young people are not entered for GCSE or GNVQ at key stage 4 (47 per cent of total care leavers, compared with 3.6 per cent of boys and 3.1 per cent of girls nationally).

In order to explore in greater depth the end of key stage 4 performance of the cohort of pupils who were in the public care in summer 2001, the Department of Health and the Department of Education and Skills, together with the Local Government Association, jointly sponsored the NFER to undertake a research project.

Key Findings

Despite working with authorities with relatively advanced data collection methodologies and a good track record in their commitment to the education of young people in care, data sets for the cohort under study were frail, partial and different sources sometimes gave conflicting information.

  • There was evidence that not all placements were appropriate for the young people and, moreover, that some key stage 4 placements either denied the young people the opportunity of more than a few GCSEs or did not offer any GCSE entry. Unmet or misunderstood special educational needs could result in the breakdown of care placements.
  • Young people with the highest number of changes of education placement at key stages 3 and 4 were most likely to be in the quarter of the sample not to be entered for any GCSE, data about the GCSE entry for a further third of the sample were missing. School factors leading to positive outcomes for young people in care at key stage 4 included stable tutoring, mechanisms for the identification of individuals needs and progress, and a rich range of formal and informal support - all routinely available and readily accessible to the young person.
  • Stability of care placement was associated with higher performance at key stage 4. There was evidence that concerns about post-16 living arrangements could distract young people from study in year 11.
  • It was not clear that there was sufficient early intervention to help young people rechannel their energies and develop attitudes and behaviour more conducive to positive educational outcomes at key stage 4.
  • Both motivated and disaffected young people were perspicacious about the strengths and weaknesses of their educational placements; this suggests that the young people themselves are a significant resource as regards enhancing their own educational careers.
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