Children in care are six times more likely to be excluded from school in Wigan, new figures reveal.
The Children’s Commissioner for England has warned too many vulnerable children are “falling through the gaps”, and could be open to criminal or sexual exploitation.
Department for Education figures show 12.9 per cent of children in the care of Wigan Council were excluded at least once in the 2016-17 academic year, the latest period with available data.
In comparison, the exclusion rate for the school population as a whole in Wigan was two per cent.
Looked-after youngsters include those living in foster care or in children’s homes.
Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield said: “Looked-after children are some of the most vulnerable children, who should be getting the best education to give them the best chances in life.
“The fact that a growing number are being excluded is deeply worrying, not only because they will be missing out on receiving a good education, but also because they are more likely to be at risk of criminal or sexual exploitation.
“Talk to any child in prison, in trouble with the police, or caught up in gangs, and they will tell you that falling out of school was a trigger point.”
In Wigan, exclusions of children in care have also increased since 2015-16, rising from 11.3 per cent.
Five years ago, the rate was nine per cent.
Cath Pealing, Wigan Council interim assistant director for education, said: “We want our children in care to have the best education possible and we take it incredibly seriously as part of our role as corporate parents.
“We are working in close partnership with our school leaders on a new inclusion strategy to ensure that all children, particularly our most vulnerable, are supported in their settings and have access to the support they need. Our schools work in close partnership with our Virtual school team who do an excellent job of identifying and supporting our children and young people in care.
“The staff in our schools deserve an enormous amount of credit for their hard work and dedication in making sure that all children, no matter what their background, are able to learn and access high quality education.
“The reasons for needing to exclude a pupil can be complex and it is a sanction that should always used as a last resort. We are encouraging our schools to continue to be as inclusive as possible and we will work with them to intervene as early as possible with the right support to prevent this measure being taken. The increase in exclusions is also mirrored nationally.”
Exclusions of looked-after children vary hugely across the country, with a high of 26.1 per cent in Wokingham, Berkshire.
The Department for Education said it is undertaking a review of exclusions, to better understand how schools are using them and why some pupils are excluded more than others.
It added that school admissions policies give looked-after children first priority to their preferred school.
The Local Government Association said it hoped the review would lead to councils’ being given greater powers to monitor schools that use exclusions to remove vulnerable pupils from mainstream education.