The purpose of the conference 'Caring for the Education of Looked After Children', is to focus on current assembly government guidance. It will provide a platform for all involved to share experiences and talk through difficulties in the area, with a view to strengthening links with the voluntary sector as well as social services and local authorities.
'This guidance, which was issued in November 2001, is designed primarily to assist local authorities in their role of 'parents' to safeguard and promote the education of children and young people who are looked after and bring their achievements closer into line with those of their peers. However, the kind of achievement I am talking about is broader than educational qualifications. It relates quite simply to the personal development of the whole child.'
The Welsh assembly government has made£11m available for 'Tackling Social Disadvantage' in 2002-03, which includes the educational attainment of looked after children, attendance and behaviour issues and ethnic minority achievement.
In past years, 75 per cent of young people in care left school with no qualifications whatsoever, and less than one per cent went on to further education. Whereas 68 per cent of the general population moved on to some form of higher education. Recent figures suggest there has been significant improvement in this, however, the gap between children in care and their peers is still very wide.
Ms Davidson added: 'One of the key factors most likely to disadvantage young people in care is the amount of time they lose out of school as a result of placement breakdown and consequent placement moves, which can result in a change in school.'
The guidance makes it clear that local authorities must monitor attendance, the amount of time spent in education and the other reasons for non-attendance.
'Good quality care should be synonymous with maximising the educational opportunities for each child. Which of us as parents would be satisfied with anything less than the best possible education for our children? Local authorities should have no lesser ambitions for the children in their care.'
The Learning Country stressed that one of the key areas requiring attention was the attainment of looked after children. It said there was a need to encourage local authorities to act on the recommendations of the joint Estyn/Social Services Inspectorate for Wales (SSIW) study 'Education Provision for Looked After Children' by promoting closer working between LEAs, social services departments, teachers, carers and the children themselves.
Ms Davidson said: 'The education service cannot achieve better standards of achievement and attainment for ourlooked after children on its own. Initiatives such as the Children First Programme has sought to transform the management and delivery of services for children in need. One of the core aims of the programme is to ensure that children who are looked after gain maximum life chance benefits from education opportunities.
'It has been proven that improving the educational outcomes for our young people in care depends upon all agencies working closely together - one of the main aspects highlighted in our guidance. An enormous amount of energy and imagination is being invested in improving these services and I want to pay tribute to the statutory and voluntary sectors involved. We must maintain and build on that momentum.'
Ms Davidson concluded: 'By working together, listening to each other and, most importantly, to the young people themselves, we can make a real difference. By helping them to realise their education potential we shall be giving them the best possible future chance in life. No cause could be more worthy of our efforts.'
Some£60m funding is available through GEST (Grants for Educational Support and Training) and related initiatives such as Children First, the Children and Youth Partnership Fund, Extending Entitlement, local authority youth services and Careers Wales, this year to complement the work of the education service.