Pandemic unravels progress for looked-after children

GCSE grade gaps have widened since 2019 - reversing pre-pandemic trends

GCSE grade gaps have widened since 2019 - reversing pre-pandemic trends

The attainment gap between looked-after children and their peers has begun widening again in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, a think tank has warned.

The Education Policy Institute said a trend seen up until 2019 which closed the gap has now been reversed, at a time when more children are experiencing social care.

Analysis by the organisation found 12.7 per cent of pupils who were in year 11 in 2021 had experienced social care at some point in the previous six years, up from 10.7 pupils in 2014.

In 2021, 2.2 per cent of pupils were classified as children in need with a child protection plan, up from 0.6 per cent in 2014.

While progress was made between 2014 and 2019 in closing the attainment gap between looked-after children and their non-looked-after peers, this is now unravelling.

In 2021, looked-after children were 2.3 grades behind in GSCE English and maths, up from 2.2 grades in 2019.

The gap grew more for children in need with a child protection plan (1.9 to 2.1 grades) and among children in need without a protection plan (1.4 to 1.6 grades).

‘A worrying picture’

The study also found that increasing proportions of looked-after children are eligible for free school meals.

Emily Hunt, associate director at the EPI, said the figures “paint a worrying picture of the increasing number of children who are falling into social care”.

“These children are often some of the most vulnerable within the education system. This reversal of the good progress made in gap-narrowing between 2014 and 2019 should be concerning to government and policymakers.” 

She added it was “clear that we need a cross government strategy that addresses the scale and nature of the challenges facing the most vulnerable in society – including tackling poverty and the growing mental health crisis among young people”.

It comes after the disadvantage gap – the difference in attainment between pupils eligible for free school meals and their better-off peers – also widened to the largest level in 10 years.

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