Children as young as seven from broken homes will be offered state boarding places under a radical plan unveiled today. The places for children at risk of being taken into care will be on offer as part of the Government's flagship academies programme, which offers a growing number of schools with all-through education to children from the age of three to 19.
Plans for the first all-through state boarding school are expected to be announced within months. There would be day-school provision for children aged three to seven, and boarding places for children from seven up. Provision could spread to other state boarding schools as the three-to-19 school model is gaining popularity among ministers and education advisers.
The plan is being unveiled by Sir Cyril Taylor, a senior adviser to successive schools secretaries for more than a decade and the former chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust. Ministers have already funded provision in both state and private boarding schools for vulnerable teenagers as an alternative to being taken into council care. Sir Cyril said: "If you identify these children at age 13 or 14 it is very difficult to turn them round. Probably the only solution then is for many more small private boarding schools in the countryside with a ratio of about two staff for every vulnerable child. However, if you could get help to them at a younger age – offering them a 'prep' school experience, it could be in time."
Sir Cyril was speaking on the eve of the publication of his book, A Good School For Every Child, in which he outlines his plans for a major expansion of state boarding school provision. In it, he advocates that at least 20 of 400 proposed new academies should have boarding units of up to 100 beds. They would take in children at risk of going into care, as well as those whose parents are forced to work abroad, such as those in the Armed Services. He would also like to see the country's existing 34 state boarding schools expand their places by about 100. He says the cost of providing a boarding-school place for vulnerable children (about £10,500 per child) is far less than the estimated cost of looking after children in foster homes (£20,000).
Sir Cyril said he believed the education of children in care, and their low exam performance, was a "national scandal". In his book, he also calls for every child to be given a reading comprehension test on arrival at secondary school at the age of 11. He acknowledges that national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds, taken in the last year of primary school, do not give an accurate reflection of a child's reading ability because so many youngsters have been coached for the tests during their last few months at primary school. "It would be a simple reading comprehension test taken online when they first arrive at school," he added. "There would be no coaching for it."
In the book, he adds: "I hope this particular recommendation will receive support because as David Blunkett said, 'If a child can't read, he or she can't learn'."
Sir Cyril also uses figures cited by Ofsted to show that 3 per cent of teaching was "inadequate" to calculate there are more than 13,000 incompetent teachers in the UK. But only 46 have been judged incompetent and dismissed by schools since 2001.
A life in learning: Sir Cyril Taylor
*Sir Cyril Taylor has been at the heart of government education thinking for more than two decades. A Tory alderman on the now defunct Greater London Council, he became chairman of the City Technology Colleges Trust in 1987 – which later became the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT). He is credited with convincing Tony Blair to back specialist secondary schools. Sir Cyril, 73, has been an adviser to 10 successive education secretaries and is still a trustee of the SSAT. On leaving school at 18 he joined the King's African Rifles and fought against the Mau Mau in Kenya in the 1950s.