New measures to support disadvantaged school children

The Education Secretary has outlined plans to prevent the most vulnerable children missing out on school, raising visibility of those who have needed a social worker.

Damian Hinds used a speech at Reform to say that the schools admission code will be changed so that the most vulnerable children, such as those fleeing domestic abuse, can access a school place more quickly.

Analysis shows that every classroom has three children who have come into contact with a social worker and 1.6 million children needing a social worker at some point in the last three years. These children suffer further as they often miss out on education, being three times more likely to be persistently absent from school and four times more likely to be permanently excluded.

As part of the new measures, research will be carried out on how to tackle persistent absence from school and exploring the expansion of advocates within education so that all children in need of a social worker, and not just those in care, are given the support they need.

Hinds also discussed better sharing of information between councils and schools, including making sure social workers are informed when a child they support is excluded from school, and closer working between schools and councils to improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged pupils.

Hinds said: “We understand children in care have very poor outcomes. Actually the truth is the outcomes for children in need of a social worker are almost as bad but there are five times as many of them. We also know the effects of this sustain. Overall if you’ve needed contact with a social worker at any time since Year 5, on average you are going to score 20 grades lower across eight GCSEs.

“We need to improve the visibility of this group, both in schools and in the system as a whole. We need to make sure in every case that information is passed on to a social worker when a child moves school. We also need to improve our knowledge of what works to support and help these children. We must not lower our expectations for them – for these children it is more important that they can do their very best to make the most of their talents when they’re at school.”

Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “The Secretary of State is right to highlight that a range of factors impacts on social mobility. Local government is at the forefront of impacting some of these, including welfare, housing, family services and public health, and is therefore uniquely placed to proactively contribute to improving social mobility of its residents if it is properly funded.

“One of the keys to tackling inequality and social mobility is to give people the best start in life, so it is good that the Government is looking at how to improve education for disadvantaged children. However, as it stands schools are discouraged both financially and in league tables from being inclusive of all children.

“Government could support and incentivise mainstream schools to improve inclusion by setting clearer national expectations of what every school should offer a child and young person, with Ofsted holding to account schools who fail to support looked after children, children in need or those with SEND.

Schools and councils are both struggling with insufficient budgets which makes it increasingly difficult to give children the support they need to thrive. Councils face an £8 billion funding gap by 2025, while an additional £1.6 billion is required in high needs funding by 2021. It is essential that government uses the forthcoming Spending Review to address these shortfalls, and to ensure schools are adequately funded to support all children to achieve their ambitions.”