Letter to TESS: Looked After Children (June 8th)

To whom it may concern;

As a Member of the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Culture Committee, I was struck by the scale of the task facing us all in levelling the educational playing field for children across Scotland. During the course of our enquiry into the attainment levels for looked after children we found that, despite 56% of school leavers achieving five or more qualifications, only 4.7% of children looked after away from home and 0.5% of children looked after at home reached the same level. When one considers that there are 16,000 looked after children in Scotland and nearly 5,500 children looked after at home, the size of this problem truly comes into focus.

There is, of course, a sensitive balance that must be struck between supporting families at home and intervening to remove children from harmful situations, which is why we have agreed to hold another, more detailed enquiry into this area. The Committee have also recommended that this issue is addressed in the Scottish Government’s early years strategy and its national parenting strategy. These are some of Scotland’s most vulnerable children and deserve our interest and attention; we must work together with health visitors, social workers, teachers and other professionals to help all of our children to reach their full potential.

It must also be stressed that educational attainment is only one part of the jigsaw. Extra-curricular activities provide vital opportunities for children to socialise outside of an educational environment and to develop transferable skills for later life. However, evidence suggests that uptake of these extra-curricular opportunities is lower among looked-after children than others, illuminating the holistic approach that must be taken to this issue.

Helping all children to reach their full potential is not only a moral imperative, but a social and economic imperative as well. Education is one of the greatest tools we have for enabling social mobility, and the width and depth of this gap in attainment is wholly unacceptable. Working to reduce this gap must be a priority for us all, and is something that I shall continue to press within the Committee.

As a former member of Highland Council, I would also like to highlight the recent report released by the Council on children who are looked after at home in the region. I would urge everybody to read both reports, and would welcome correspondence from any individuals or groups who believe they could help in our efforts to help reduce this gap. Children do not get a second chance at their education; it is vital that we do everything we can to listen and learn from past experiences.


Jean Urquhart MSP

MSP for Highlands & Islands