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Educational attainment of children in need & children in care

Researchers: Professor David Berridge | Dr Nikki Luke ...

Project overview

This project will investigate the educational trajectories of children in care, including the perspectives of parents, pupils and professionals on the factors affecting educational progress.

Children in Care (CIC) generally have lower educational attainments than other pupils, and although the educational attainments of CIC have improved slightly in recent years (DfE 2016b), it is clear that the attainment gap between CIC and other pupils remains large (DfE 2014). Children in Need (CIN ‘ those experiencing serious family problems and requirement social work support while living at home, including those subject to Child Protection Plans) make less education progress than CIC, suggesting that the care system may operate as a protective factor educationally. Given the well-established links between educational outcomes, subsequent employment, housing, mental and physical health, and offending, there is a need to further investigate the strengths and vulnerabilities in young people with related but distinct home and school experiences.

Following previous work conducted by the researchers and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, this project will investigate issues highlighted by the previous work and agreed with the Department for Education, Ofsted, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) and the National Association of Virtual School Heads (NAVSH). The overall research questions are:

  • Compared with all pupils, what are the educational trajectories, attainments and progress of children who are CIN/CIC at some stage of their schooling, and what are the associated factors?
  • How can we account for children who succeed in their educational attainments at 16 years despite experiencing severe early adversity?
  • What are parents’, pupils’ and professionals’ perspectives on the overall factors affecting educational progress for CIN and CIC, including the impact of family resources, educational and social work support or their absence?

The researchers will employ a mixed methods approach, using a prospective longitudinal design to analyse all pupils in England who began school in 2005 up to their GCSEs in 2016, as well as qualitative interviews to explore the perspectives of pupils, parents and professionals on the factors that affect educational progress for CIC and CIN.


  • Professor David Berridge
    University of Bristol
  • Dr Nikki Luke
    University of Oxford
  • Professor Judy Sebba
    University of Oxford
  • Professor Steve Strand
    University of Oxford

  • Programme Head, Education
    Nuffield Foundation
  • Director, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

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