Children in care to get private school places

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Children in care will be given places in the country's top private boarding schools under a radical plan to improve exam performance.

The move is disclosed today by Andrew Adonis, the Schools minister, in an article for The Independent, and will be announced in a government Green Paper in the autumn.

It follows rising concern over the education of children in care following a report by the charity Barnardo's last week which revealed eight out of 10 obtained no qualifications at all after 11 years of compulsory schooling.

In addition, one in nine attended 10 or more schools during their educational life as they were switched from foster home to foster home. The minister disclosed that there had been talks with private and state boarding schools (there are about 30) to see if they would be prepared to offer places to children in care.

"Many state and private boarding schools are keenly interested in participating," Lord Adonis said.

"Such placements come at a price - but they could prove good value in in terms of greater stability and educational success for looked-after children in the right circumstances."

Research published at the weekend said the cost of private education had soared by 43 per cent in the past five years. Top private schools are now charging about £21,000 a year for boarding places.

He added that children in care were "a particular cause for concern" with the Barnardo's report highlighting "their often desperately poor educational achievement and the impact of frequent changes of placements and inadequate access to good schools".

Sir Cyril Taylor, an adviser to the Government on specialist schools and academies, has been an advocate of sending deprived teenagers - often considered by their schools to be tearaways - to boarding schools. He has argued passionately for top private schools, such as Eton and Harrow, to take them and is optimistic that he will find a private sponsor to set up a specialist boarding academy for troubled teenagers.

The academies' programme is Tony Blair's flagship plan to set up a network of privately run urban schools.

In addition, Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Education, who himself was orphaned at an early age and brought up by his sister in a council flat in Kensington and Chelsea, is known to favour the plan.

In the article, Lord Adonis also holds out the prospect of an expansion to the academies' programme - beyond the target of setting up 200 by 2010. In a statement that will anger Labour left-wingers who claim the academies could lead to a two-tier education system, he said this year's GCSE results had shown that academies succeed.

The proportion of pupils gaining five A* to C grade passes had increased by four times the national average in the 21 academies where pupils were sitting their GCSEs.

Lord Adonis said the Government's response would be "more academies, as fast as reasonably possible".

"Nearly 50 new academies are scheduled to open in the next 13 months," he said. "The only question is how far and fast we go beyond this."

He said there were now three applications for every academy place, adding: "We must be as ambitious as parents are demanding."