We must stop throwing good money after bad on children’s homes that aren’t working. I believe there is a need to get vulnerable children into top-quality weekday boarding schools as soon as possible.
Children in care are some of the most disadvantaged people in our society. They don’t have families that are capable of looking after them and they miss out on love, support and great role models.
This isn’t their fault. They didn’t choose their family; they didn’t choose where and when they were born.
Politicians from all sides have ignored these children for too long. It is time we faced the facts, saddled our responsibility and overcame any historic prejudice to boarding schools when the evidence speaks for itself.
The current system doesn’t work. Many children in care already have a criminal record or suffer from an addition problem. Six in 10 children in care suffer from an emotional or mental problem. And a miserly 7 per cent go to university.
Without a good education or apprenticeships, how are these children supposed to succeed? How can they ever improve their lives and look forward to a brighter future?
The truth is the vast majority of looked-after children just won’t. Half of all sex workers were in care; a third of all care leavers are now thought to be living on the street and nearly a third of all those people in prison were in care at some point.
This is a shameful national catastrophe.
But there is a solution right in front of us. With the help of charities, schools, philanthropists and businesses, the government should pay for these children to go to boarding schools. I want to see these disadvantaged children studying at the best schools we have.
Boarding schools will be these children’s first experience of proper stability and structure. At the moment these neglected children are shuttled between foster carers and children’s homes. They’re lucky if they stick with the same people longer than a few weeks at best.
They can end up switching schools and teachers every other month. Why work hard when you might change schools in a couple of weeks? You’ll just start at bottom of the class again.
These children also don’t have the opportunity to build up strong friendships with other children or adults. This is not because foster carers or the people who work in children’s home don’t do a great job, but because these children are shifted about like chess pieces – treated like numbers in the system.
If we are going to see the UK return to the top of the competitiveness rankings, if we want the UK to be a great trading nation once again, we must improve the social mobility of these vulnerable children; everyone must have the opportunity to be the best they can be.
This isn’t revolutionary. There are already some brilliant charities doing some fantastic stuff. Charities like the Royal National Children’s Foundation (RNCF) and Buttle UK that provide vulnerable children with bursaries to study at boarding schools.
The results of these schemes open up your eyes and take your breath away.
Thirty nine per cent of children who are enrolled in boarding schools by RNCF become star performers, and half of those kids who were considered ‘at risk of failing’ had caught up with – or exceeded – their peers within three years.
These vulnerable children’s academic attainment climbed 28%; their self-esteem and morale soared 50 per cent and their overall performance rocketed 80%.
These disadvantaged kids knew they had been given a once in a lifetime opportunity. And they grabbed it with both hands.
And staggeringly, paying for these children to attend top boarding schools will be cheaper than the government’s current approach. It costs an eye-watering £150,000 to care for a child in a children’s home and between £20-25,000 to look after a child in foster care. It costs only £14,800 to enrol a child in state boarding school and between £25-30,000 at an independent school, including the cost of care during school holidays.
The actual amount the government pays will be much lower after charities, philanthropists, schools and businesses get involved.
I know that these bursaries won’t work for all children. Some children suffer from difficult emotional problems that cannot be managed effectively in a school environment. I’m the first to admit there’s no fix-all solution to difficult problems.
But we need to start somewhere.