The educational progress of children in care

The Rees Centre and University of Bristol (Graduate School of Education and School for Policy Studies) were funded by the Nuffield Foundation to explore the Key Stage 4 (GCSE) educational of children in care in England.

RESEARCH TEAM: Professor Judy Sebba, Professor David Berridge, Professor Steve Strand, Professor Sally Thomas, Dr Nikki Luke, Dr John Fletcher, Dr Karen Bell, Professor Ian Sinclair, Aoife O’Higgins

Key Findings:

What are the key factors contributing to the low educational outcomes of young people in care in secondary schools in England? The analysis reveals that controlling for all factors, the following contribute to the educational progress of young people in care:
  • Time in care. Young people who have been in longer-term care do better than those ‘in need’ but not in care, and better than those who have only been in short term care, so it
  • appears that care may protect them educationally.
  • Placement changes: Each additional change of care placement after age 11 is associated with one third of a grade less at GCSE.
  • School changes. Young people in care who changed school in Years 10 or 11 scored over five grades less than those who did not.
  • School absence. For every 5% of possible school sessions missed due to unauthorised school absences, young people in care scored over two grades less at GCSE.
  • School exclusions. For every additional day of school missed due to fixed-term exclusions, young people in care scored one sixth of a grade less at GCSE.
  • Placement type. Young people living in residential or another form of care at age 16 scored over six grades less than those who were in kinship or foster care.
  • School type. Young people who were in special schools at age 16 scored over 14 grades lower in their GCSEs compared to those with the same characteristics who were in mainstream schools. Those in pupil referral units with the same characteristics scored almost 14 grades lower
  • Educational support. Young people report that teachers provide the most significant educational support for them but teachers suggest that they need more training to do this effectively

The key findings and policy implications are presented in the overview report. The further technical reports present the full results. The following reports were launched at a formal event at the Nuffield Foundation London, 30 November 2015:

Technical report 1

Technical report 2

Technical report 3

Summary – one page briefing of key findings

Slides from launch event 30/11/15 London

If you would like free hard copies of the overview report, please request by email to:

Why is this research needed?
Children who are in care are one of the lowest performing groups in terms of educational outcomes. They also have poorer employment prospects and health outcomes than the general population and are over-represented in the homeless and prison populations. Poor educational progress and low achievement are known to contribute to these long-term outcomes. What is unclear is the factors which facilitate or limit educational progress for these young people. Identifying the relationships between care experiences and educational progress will enable schools and services for children and young people to better support their education and improve outcomes.



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