United Kingdom

Looked-after children

Graphs on this page:

Supporting information:

Key points

  • There are 65,000 looked-after children (sometimes called children in care) in England.  This is 5,000 more than a decade ago, with all of this increase being in the last three years (i.e. since 2008).
  • Although falling, a quarter of looked-after children still obtain no qualifications and a further quarter obtain fewer than five GCSEs or equivalent.
  • These proportions are much greater than for children as a whole.  For example, the half not obtain fewer than five GCSEs or equivalent compares to less than one in ten children as a whole.  It should, however, be remembered that the majority of the looked-after children have some form of special educational needs.
  • A third of previously looked-after children are not in education, employment or training at age 19.

Why this indicator was originally chosen

Many looked-after children (sometimes called children in care) suffer disadvantage in later life.

Definitions and data sources

The first graph shows the number of looked-after children at 31st March each year, with the data shown separately for boys and for girls.

For those children who had been looked after continuously for at least twelve months, the second graph shows in year 11 who do not obtain five or more GCSEs or vocational equivalent.  The data is split between those who obtain no qualifications and those who do obtain some GCSEs or equivalent but less than five.  For comparison purposes, the proportion of all year 11 children who do not obtain five or more GCSEs or equivalent.  Note that, as discussed in the indicator on educational attainment at age 16, the precise definitions of the educational thresholds shown has changed over time.  Furthermore, it may be that the precise groups of children included/excluded in the estimates are a bit different as between looked-after children and all children (e.g. in terms of age groups).  Whilst these issues mean that the data is not strictly comparable either over time or between looked-after children and all children, both the trends and the differences are sufficiently great for this not to put the general patterns into doubt.

The third graph shows, for the latest year, the status of 19-year-olds who were being looked after at age 16 (i.e. three years previously) in terms of whether they are in education, employment or training.

The data source for all the graphs is Department for Educaion statistical bulletins and the data relates to England.  The data in the first and third graphs comes from the annual publications entitled Children looked after in England and that in the second graph from the annual publications entitled Outcome indicators for looked-after children.  The figures exclude children looked after under an agreed series of short-term placements.

Overall adequacy of the indicator: high.  The data is a complete count.

Relevant 2007 Public Service Agreements

Overall aim:  Narrow the gap in educational achievement between children from low income and disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers

Lead department

Department for Children, Schools and Families.

Official national targets

Improve the average (mean) score of the lowest 20% of the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) results, so that the gap between that average score and the median score is reduced by an additional 3 percentage points from 2008 results, by 2011.

Increase the proportion of pupils progressing by 2 levels in English and maths at each of Key Stages 2, 3 and 4 by 2011:

  • KS2: English 9 percentage points, maths 11 percentage points.
  • KS3: English 16 percentage points, maths 12 percentage points.
  • KS4: English 15 percentage points, maths 13 percentage points.

Increase the proportion of children in care at Key Stage 2 achieving level 4 in English to 60% by 2011, and level 4 in mathematics to 55% by 2011.

Increase the proportion of children in care achieving 5A*-C GCSEs (and equivalent) at Key Stage 4 to 20% by 2011.

Other indicators of progress

Achievement gap between pupils eligible for Free School Meals and their peers at Key Stages 2 and 4.

Proportion of young people from low-income backgrounds progressing to higher education.

Overall aim:  Increase the proportion of socially excluded adults in settled accommodation and employment, education or training

Lead department

Cabinet Office.

Official national targets


Other indicators of progress

Care leavers at 19 in suitable accommodation.

Offenders under probation supervision and  in settled  and suitable accommodation.

Adults in contact with secondary mental health services in settled accommodation.

Adults with learning disabilities in settled accommodation.

Care-leavers at 19 in education, training and employment.

Offenders under probation supervision in employment.

Adults in contact with secondary mental health services in employment.

Adults with learning disabilities in employment.

Previous 2004 targets

Narrow the gap in educational achievement between looked-after children and that of their peers, and improve their educational support and stability of their lives so that, by 2008, 80% of children under 1 who have been looked after for at least two and a half years will have been living in the same placement for at least two years, or placed for adoption.

The numbers

Graph 1

Year Boys Girls
198933,700 28,400
199032,500 28,000
199132,000 27,900
199229,300 26,100
199327,300 24,300
199426,200 23,000
199526,500 23,000
1996 27,300 23,200
1997 27,900 23,100
1998 29,200 24,200
1999 30,200 25,200
2000 31,900 26,200
2001 32,600 26,300
2002 33,200 26,500
2003 33,800 27,400
2004 34,000 27,200
2005 33,700 27,200
2006 33,400 26,900
200733,400 26,600
200833,400 26,000
200934,600 26,300
201036,200 28,300
201136,500 29,100

Graph 2

Year Looked-after childrenAll children
No qualificationsLess than 5 GCSEs or equivalentNo qualificationsLess than 5 GCSEs or equivalent
1999/00 51% 65% 6% 11%
2000/01 50% 67% 6% 11%
2001/02 47% 64% 5% 11%
2002/03 47% 63% 5% 11%
2003/04 44% 61% 4% 11%
2004/05 40% 59% 3% 10%
2005/0638% 59% 3% 10%
2006/0739% 59% 2% 9%
2007/0834% 54% 1% 8%
2008/0931% 50% 1% 8%
2009/1022% 49% 1% 7%

Graph 3

In education, employment or training61%
Not in education, employment or training33%
Not in touch6%