There was a report(£) in The Times recently about an interesting proposal for a new free school. It said that an “Eton-style boarding school” is planned for west London:
“It aims to close the vast gap in results between children in care and their peers by using intensive residential education.
“An application for the boarding school for pupils aged 10-18 has been submitted to the Department for Education.
“Ed Davison, deputy head of the sixth form at Ark Putney Academy in London and one of a team of five Teach First graduates involved, told the Times Educational Supplement: “We looked at the boarding-school model and how successful that has been in terms of education outcomes. I went to a boarding school, so I have some experience about how that education was very effective for me, and that’s useful.”
“Called The Lighthouse, the project is targeted at children who would otherwise be likely to move between a large number of foster families. It would give children time outside mainstream school to catch up academically for up to three years.
“Pupils would live in the home and be educated there by teachers with experience of children from challenging backgrounds and with behavioural or emotional difficulties. Social workers would live alongside teaching staff.
“From Year 9 the pupils could go to secondary schools while living at the home and later take their GCSEs.”
It added that Emmanuel Akpan-Inwang, who was looked after by foster parents, “was inspired to start the project after seeing the problem of low academic attainment among the 93,000 children in care across Britain”.
I wish the proposal every success. Progress in placing children in care in boarding school has been scandalously slow. The problem is not money – on the contrary it would provide a huge saving. Fostering a child costs £21,000 a year. A place in an institutional children’s home costs £126,000 a year.
The difficulty is the ideological hostility of the social work establishment – which politicians, locally and nationally, have been too craven to take on.
A few years ago Policy Exchange suggested that 1,000 children in care be placed in boarding school. Not even that has been achieved.
Boarding school placements could be transformational for these children. Research by the Royal National Children’s Foundation looking at a sample of 11-17 year olds who had spent three or more years as boarders, found that 85 per cent were achieving better grades than the average for a child of their age - even though most of them had been diagnosed with severe emotional problems before they started at their school.
The challenge is not only to get lots more boarding schools like The Lighthouse set up. It is to overcome obstruction from social workers when it comes to children in care being able to apply.