Reporting Year 2021

Outcomes for children in need, including children looked after by local authorities in England

This is the latest dataNational statistics
UK statistics authority quality mark
Published
Last updated
See all updates (1)
  1. Minor amendments made to the data guidance and methodology document regarding rounding and suppression.

This statistical release provides a range of outcome measures at national and level authority level for children in need (CIN), including children looked after (CLA) by local authorities in England. 

The outcome measures cover:

  • special education needs
  • educational attainment (at key stage 4)
  • destinations from school
  • absence from school
  • permanent exclusions and suspensions from school
  • free school meal eligibility
  • type of school attended

Key stage 4 data is also published at national level for children who were previously looked after who left care through an adoption, special guardianship or child arrangements order (Official Statistics).

This is the second edition of a new statistical release introduced in 2020 (published in March 2021). Changes to this year’s publication include the addition of an ethnicity breakdown for key stage 4 data at national level and the return of full year absence data for the 2020-21 academic year. We’ve continued to include Autumn term absence data this year for comparison to 2019-20 data, where full year data is not available due to the pandemic.

This year we have updated our primary suppression rules and suppression symbols. More details on this can be found in the methodology that accompanies this publication.


Headline facts and figures - 2021

The latest figures relate to the reporting year ending 31 March 2021 for children in social care:

  • Pupils in all social care groups were over twice as likely to have a special educational need (SEN) than the overall pupil population. For all children in need (CIN), almost half had a special educational need compared to 16% of the overall pupil population.
  • Over half of all CIN were eligible for free school meals. This compares to 21% of the overall pupil population.
  • Children in the social care groups perform less well than their peers across all key stage 4 measures (with the overall pupil average attainment 8 score being 50.9). Children with SEN have been recorded to have lower average attainment compared to the overall population. As such, the higher prevalence of SEN amongst looked after children (CLA) and children in need in part explains the difference in attainment compared to the overall pupil population.
  • As is the case for the overall pupil population, for most of the key social care groups, Asian or Asian British pupils (including Chinese children) have the highest average Attainment 8 scores. The exception to this is CLA for at least 12 months, where Black, African, Caribbean or Black British have the highest average score.
  • The percentage of persistent absentees for CLA for at least 12 months was 12% in the Autumn 2020 term, which was lower than the percentage for the overall pupil population (13%). However, as with overall absence, this percentage was higher for the other key social care groups.
  • One in 10 pupils in 2020/21 have been a child in need in the last 6 years.

Explore data and files

All data used in this release is available as open data for download


Open data

Browse and download individual open data files from this release in our data catalogue


Guidance

Learn more about the data files used in this release using our online guidance


Create your own tables

You can view featured tables that we have built for you, or create your own tables from the open data using our table tool


Social care groups

Social Care Groups

Summary

The social care groups cover children in need (CIN), children on a child protection plan (CPP) and children looked after (CLA) by local authorities in England.  Where appropriate, an ‘all pupils comparison’ from the relevant national statistics is included for each outcome. 

Detailed information on the social care groups and the all pupils comparisons is provided in the methodology document.

Abbreviations of social care group names used throughout this release 

  • CIN - children in need.
  • CINO - children in need, excluding children on a child protection plan and children looked after. This includes children on child in need plans as well as other types of plan or arrangements.
  • CPPO - children on a child protection plan, excluding children looked after.
  • CLA - children looked after (excludes children who are in respite care in their most recent episode during the reporting year).

Social care groups included in the commentary (referred to as key social care groups):

  • CIN at 31 March
  • CINO at 31 March
  • CPPO at 31 March
  • CLA 12 months at 31 March - CLA continuously for at least twelve months at 31 March.
  • CLA less than 12 months at 31 March - CLA continuously for less than twelve months at 31 March

Social care groups included in both national and local authority level data:

  • CINO at 31 March
  • CPPO at 31 March (where numbers are large enough).
  • CLA 12 months at 31 March

Social care groups included in national level data only:

  • All pupils comparison - from the national publications.
  • CIN at 31 March
  • CLA less than 12 months at 31 March
  • CIN at any point - ‘any point’ means at any point during the reporting year (including at 31 March).
  • CINO at any point
  • CPPO at any point
  • CLA at any point
  • Ever CIN - last 6 years - children in need, at any point in the last 6 reporting years (including at 31 March).

Other groups

At key stage 4 there are additional groups in the national level data on previously looked after arrangements (PLAA). These are Official Statistics on arrangements for previously looked after children.

  • PLAA - Adoption - previously looked after children who left care through an adoption.
  • PLAA - SGO - previously looked after children who left care through a special guardianship order (SGO).
  • PLAA - CAO - previously looked after children who left care through a child arrangements order (CAO).
  • PLAA - Total - previously looked after children who left care through an adoption, SGO or CAO.

Special educational needs

All references to the key social care groups in this section relate to the time point as at 31 March.

Pupils in all social care groups were over twice as likely to have a special educational need (SEN) than the overall pupil population. They were nearly three times more likely to have a statement or Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan, than the overall pupil population and nearly twice as likely to have SEN support. 

Of all the social care groups, CLA for at least 12 months had the highest proportion of children with a special educational need (56.2%) compared to CPPO (38.3%), which had the lowest proportion. The percentage of pupils with special educational needs across the key social care groups has generally remained stable over the five years covered in this data.

It is important to consider these differences when viewing the educational outcomes data for children belonging to all of the social care groups.

Primary type of special educational need

For all the key social care groups, among pupils with SEN support, the most common type of primary need (for over a third of pupils for each social care group) was social, emotional and mental health, followed by moderate learning difficulty and speech, language and communications needs. 

Social, emotional and mental health was also the most common type of need among pupils with an EHC plan for CPPO and for all looked after children social care groups. Autism spectrum disorder was the most common type of need for both CIN social care groups and for the overall pupil population. For all children looked after groups, these two types of primary need accounted for at least 60% of pupils with a statement or EHC plan.

Key stage 4 attainment

All references to the key social care groups in this section relate to the time point as at 31 March.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the summer exam series for the 2020/21 academic year was cancelled

Instead, for 2020/21, pupils were only assessed on the content they had been taught for each course. Schools were given flexibility to decide how to assess their pupils’ performance, for example, through mock exams, class tests, and non-exam assessment already completed. GCSE grades were then determined by teachers based on the range of evidence available and they are referred to as teacher-assessed grades, or TAGs. 

This is a different process to that of 2019/20 when pupils were awarded either a centre assessment grade (known as CAGs, based on what the school or college believed the pupil would most likely have achieved had exams gone ahead) or their calculated grade using a model developed by Ofqual - whichever was the higher of the two.

The changes to the way GCSE grades have been awarded over the last two years (with CAGs and TAGs replacing exams) mean 2020/21 pupil attainment data should not be directly compared to pupil attainment data from previous years for the purposes of measuring year on year changes in pupil performance.

For more information see the key stage 4 performance statistics release for academic year 2020/21.

Summary

Pupils in the key social care groups perform less well than their peers across all key stage 4 measures. However, looked after children and children in need reaching the end of key stage 4 are much more likely to have a special educational need (SEN) than the overall pupil population. Children with SEN have been recorded to have lower average attainment compared to the overall population. As such, the higher prevalence of SEN amongst looked after children (CLA) and children in need accounts for part of the difference in attainment compared to the overall pupil population.

Attainment 8

Attainment 8 measures the average achievement of pupils in up to 8 qualifications. This includes: English language; English literature (if only one GCSE in English is taken then it is double weighted); maths (double weighted); three further qualifications that count in the English Baccalaureate (EBacc); and three further qualifications that can be GCSE qualifications (including EBacc subjects) or any other non-GCSE qualifications on the DfE approved list. 

From 2018, Attainment 8 had a maximum point score of 90, compared to a maximum of 87 in 2017 and 80 in 2016. This is a consequence of the phased introduction of reformed GCSEs graded on the 9-1 scale. These differences should be considered when comparing Attainment 8 scores between 2016-2019. 

The average Attainment 8 score has increased slightly for the overall pupil population and across all the key social care groups in 2020/21. However, the percentage point increases are less this year, compared to 2019/20. These increases reflect the changes to the way GCSE grades were awarded rather than improvements in pupil performance.

As in previous years, the average Attainment 8 scores in 2020/21 for all the key social care groups were less than half that compared to the overall pupil population. The attainment of pupils across most of the key social care groups was broadly similar, with the exception of lower attainment for CLA for less than 12 months.

Across all key stage 4 measures, children who had left care through an adoption, Special Guardianship Order, or Child Arrangements Order (the previously looked after arrangements social care groups - PLAA) achieve better than looked after children and children in need, but less well than the overall pupil population. However, caution must be taken with the PLAA statistics, due to the level of coverage. For more information on coverage, see the accompanying methodology.

Attainment 8 by SEN

Children in the key social care groups perform less well than their peers across all key stage 4 measures. However, looked after children and children in need reaching the end of key stage 4 are much more likely to have a special educational need (SEN) than the overall pupil population. Children with SEN have been recorded to have lower average attainment compared to the overall population. So, whilst many factors are involved, this accounts for part of the difference between the overall pupil population and looked after children and children in need. This is demonstrated by the general reduction in the difference between the key social care groups and the overall pupil population average Attainment 8 scores, when removing the effect of a larger proportion of SEN in the social care groups, by looking at the individual SEN categories, including no identified SEN.

Attainment 8 by ethnicity

We are publishing an ethnicity breakdown of key stage 4 data for the first time this year. As is the case for the overall pupil population, for most of the key social care groups, Asian or Asian British children (including Chinese children) have the highest average Attainment 8 scores. The exception to this CLA for at least 12 months, where Black, African, Caribbean or Black British have the highest average score. In the overall pupil population, Black, African, Caribbean or Black British and White groups have the lowest average score, whereas in the key social care groups it is generally either White or Other ethnic groups that have the lowest average score.

Attainment in English and maths (grades 5 or above)

This measure looks at the percentage of pupils achieving grade 5 or above in both English and maths GCSEs. To count for this measure a pupil would have to achieve a grade 5 or above in either English literature or English language. There is no requirement to sit both.

The percentage of pupils achieving grade 5 or above in both English and maths GCSEs has increased across all the key social care groups in 2020/21. However, the percentage point increases are generally less this year, compared to 2019/20. These increases likely reflect the changed method for awarding grades rather than demonstrating a step change improvement in standards.

The attainment of pupils across most of the key social care groups was broadly similar, with the exception of lower attainment for CLA for less than 12 months. 

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) entry

The EBacc shows how many pupils are entering GCSEs (or AS level qualifications) in core academic subjects at KS4. The EBacc consists of English, maths, science, a language, and history or geography. To count in the EBacc, qualifications must be on the English Baccalaureate list of qualifications. 

In 2020, this measure was less likely to have been affected by the cancellation of exams as schools will have taken most of their entry decisions ahead of the COVID-19 disruption.

The percentage of pupils entering the English Baccalaureate has increased slightly for most key social care groups whilst decreasing slightly for CLA for at least 12 months and the overall pupil population. However, the increases are small at less than 1.0 percentage point between 2019/20 and 2010/21, with the exception of CPPO, which increased by 1.8 percentage points after remaining steady for the previous two years.

EBacc average point score

The EBacc average point score (APS) measures pupils’ point scores across the five pillars of the EBacc - English, maths, science, a language, and history or geography – with a zero for any missing pillars. This ensures the attainment of all pupils is recognised, not just those at particular grade boundaries, encouraging schools to enter pupils of all abilities, and support them to achieve their full potential.

For more information on these measures and their calculation methodology, see the secondary accountability guidance.

The EBacc average point score has increased across all of the key social care groups, mirroring the trend seen in the overall pupil population. All of the key social care groups have an average point score less than half that of the overall pupil population.

Destinations

All references to the key social care groups in this section relate to the time point as at 31 March.

Key stage 4 destination measures follow pupils who were at the end of key stage 4 study (GCSE and equivalent qualifications) in 2018/19, and reports their destinations in the following academic year (2019/20). They show the percentage of pupils going to an education, apprenticeship or employment destination. To be counted in a destination, young people have to have sustained participation for a 6 month period in the destination year. Further details are provided in the methodology document that accompanies the Key stage 4 destination measures: 2019/20 statistical release.

Note that the percentages for the social care groups are much less than the overall pupil population figures published in the Key stage 4 destination measures: 2019/20 statistical release. However, it should be noted that the figures in this outcomes release include additional institutions, so they are not directly comparable. For example, other institutions include: independent schools, independent special schools and secure units.

Destination measures data for the key social care groups in 2018/19 followed a similar pattern to those completing key stage 4 in 2017/18.

Sustained education remained the most common destination for the key social care groups after completing key stage 4. CLA for at least 12 months were the most likely to be in sustained education (72%), while CPPO were the least (52%). Conversely, CPPO were almost twice as likely as CLA for at least 12 months to have no sustained destination. 

 

Absence (full year)

All references to the key social care groups in this section relate to the time point as at 31 March.

During 2020/21, an additional code was introduced to record where pupils were not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus (COVID-19).  This includes pupils self-isolating and shielding, including when a class or bubble was required to stay at home. During these sessions, these children could not attend school and so they are treated separately, and not counted within the standard absence rates within this publication. Where a pupil was not attending in these circumstances, schools were expected to provide immediate access to remote education.

For the majority of the Spring term, only children of critical workers and vulnerable pupils could attend school during the period of lockdown from 4 January 2021. Restrictions were lifted on attendance from 8 March 2021 for all other pupils, four school weeks prior to the end of term.  Due to the disruption faced during the Spring term, caution should be taken when comparing data across terms and to previous years.  For more detailed information see the  Pupil absence in schools in England, Academic Year 2020/21 – Explore education statistics – GOV.UK (explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk).

There has been a relatively large increase in the percentage of overall absence across all the key social care groups when comparing the 2018/19 data before the pandemic with the 2020/21 data during the pandemic. For example, the percentage of overall absence almost doubled for CLA for at least 12 months (9.1% in 2020/21 compared to 5.1% in 2018/19). This contrasts with the overall pupil population where it has remained fairly stable (4.7% in 2020/21 compared to 4.8% in 2018/19).  

These figures reflect the fact that during the national lockdown vulnerable pupils were prioritised to continue attending school but, where a parent wanted their child to be absent, schools were advised to grant a leave of absence. This means that the absence rates for pupils who were prioritised to continue attending school this term will be higher than for those who were not eligible to attend. For similar reasons authorised absence across all social care groups increased in all school types. However, the pattern was different for unauthorised absence. The percentage of unauthorised absence fell for all social care groups and school types, except for state-funded primary schools where it remained more stable. This is likely due to families not being able to go on holiday.

The percentages for overall absence have increased for all social care groups across all school types, with the exception of a slight fall for pupil referral units, with similar patterns for percentages of persistent absentees.

In 2020/21, all social care groups (with the exception of CLA for at least 12 months) were over twice as likely to be absent than the overall pupil population with CPPO over three times as likely.

Absence (autumn term)

All references to the key social care groups in this section relate to the time point as at 31 March.

In recent years (prior to the pandemic), published autumn term absence percentages have given reasonable indications of trends in the full year. However, absence in a single term can be more affected by the level of seasonal flu or other illnesses. Usually, full year data for social care groups provides a more holistic view on overall absence percentages, however, in 2020/21 due to the disruption faced during the Spring term, caution should be taken when comparing full year data across terms and to previous years.

Autumn term percentages for all types of absences have largely remained the same or seen a slight decrease across all the key social care groups, with the exception of CLA less than 12 months, which increased slightly compared to 2019/20. The year-on-year comparison of Autumn term absence data is more stable compared to the differences seen in the full year data. This reflects the impact of the differences in the way attendance for vulnerable children was recorded due to them being prioritised to continue attending school during Spring term. With no restrictions on attendance in the Autumn term, the year-on-year absence trends for all social care groups closer reflect those in the overall pupil population.

The percentage of persistent absentees for CIN and CINO fell slightly between the Autumn 2019 and Autumn 2020 terms (by around 1 percentage point). A pupil is identified as a persistent absentee if they miss 10% or more of their possible sessions. The percentage of persistent absentees for the other key social care groups remained similar to 2019/20, mirroring the trend seen in the overall pupil population.

In Autumn 2020, all social care groups (apart from CLA for at least 12 months) were over twice as likely to be persistently absent than the overall pupil population with CPPO over three times as likely.

Permanent exclusions and suspensions

All references to the key social care groups in this section relate to the time point as at 31 March.

Permanent exclusions and suspensions data is collected two terms in arrears, which means the latest available data is for the 2019/20 academic year.

Covering the 2019/20 academic year, this year's data includes the start of the pandemic when, from 23 March, school sites were closed for all but those children of critical workers and vulnerable children, with others being educated remotely. Permanent exclusions and suspensions were possible throughout the full academic year but comparisons to previous years should be treated with caution.

Permanent exclusions 

A permanent exclusion refers to a pupil who is excluded and who will not come back to that school (unless the exclusion is overturned). This data only includes permanent exclusions which have been upheld by the governing body or Independent Review Panel (IRP), and not those which are still ongoing. The permanent exclusion percentage is calculated as the number of permanent exclusions divided by the number of pupils (x100). 

The percentage of pupils permanently excluded for all key social care groups has declined by a third or more since 2018/19. As a result, the percentage of pupils permanently excluded across all the key social care groups and the overall pupil population are at their lowest levels in the last five years. However, this is likely to be attributable, at least in part, to restrictions on school attendance in place for parts of the year during 2019/20, caused by the pandemic, as described above.

Patterns across the key social care groups remain similar to previous years. The percentage of pupils permanently excluded for CLA for at least 12 months was 0.05%, which was similar to the overall pupil population (0.06%). In comparison, CPPO had the highest percentage of pupils permanently excluded (0.63%) of any of the social care groups. 

Suspensions

Pupils with one or more suspensions refer to pupils that had at least one suspension across the full academic year.

The percentage of pupils with one or more suspensions for all social care groups and the overall pupil population has declined since 2018/19, however, this is likely to be attributable, at least in part, to restrictions on school attendance in place for parts of the year during 2019/20, caused by the pandemic, as described above.   

Pupils belonging to the key social care groups were around 5 times more likely to have had one or more suspension from school compared to the overall pupil population.

CLA for less than 12 months at 31 March were the most likely to be suspended (11.59%) and CINO were the least likely (9.04%), which follows the same pattern as previous years.

Free school meals

All references to the key social care groups in this section relate to the time point as at 31 March.

Children in state-funded schools in England are entitled to receive free school meals if a parent or carer was in receipt of certain benefits. More information on free school meal eligibility is provided in the department's Schools, pupils and their characteristics statistics publication.

In 2020/21, over half of pupils in all CIN groups were eligible for free school meals, more than twice the proportion for the overall pupil population (20.8%).

Free school meal eligibility for the CIN social care groups increased for a third consecutive year in 2020/21, which is consistent with the rise seen for the overall pupil population. 

From April 2018 transitional protections were in in place, which continued during the roll out of Universal Credit. These protections mean that pupils eligible for free school meals on or after 1 April 2018 retain their free school meals eligibility, even if their circumstances change. If a child was eligible for free school meals, they remain eligible until they finish their current phase of schooling (primary or secondary) in 2023. The introduction of transitional protections is the main reason for the increase in the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals seen in recent years, as pupils continue to become eligible, but fewer pupils stop being eligible.

Although free school meal eligibility was increasing prior to the pandemic, the rise seen between 2019/20 and 2020/21 was higher than each of the year-on-year increases seen in the previous two years.

Children who have been in need in the last 6 years

There were 850,000 pupils (in state-funded primary and secondary schools, special schools and pupil referral units) in 2020/21 that were known to have been in need in the last 6 years: 

This is equivalent to 1 in 10 pupils.

Over a third (37%) had a special educational need; more than twice the proportion of the overall pupil population (16%).

More than half (56%) were eligible for free school meals, compared to a fifth (21%) of the overall pupil population.

Nearly a third (31%) of compulsory school age children who have been in need in the last six years were persistently absent from school (based on full year data),  which is more than twice the proportion of the overall pupil population (12%).

Less than a quarter (22%) achieved a grade 5 or above in GCSE English and maths, compared to over half (52%) of the overall pupil population, while their average Attainment 8 score was 31.3 compared to 50.9 for the overall pupil population. 

Help and support

Methodology

Find out how and why we collect, process and publish these statistics

National statistics

The United Kingdom Statistics Authority designated these statistics as National Statistics in accordance with the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 and signifying compliance with the Code of Practice for Statistics.

Designation signifying their compliance with the authority's Code of Practice for Statistics which broadly means these statistics are:

  • managed impartially and objectively in the public interest
  • meet identified user needs
  • produced according to sound methods
  • well explained and readily accessible

Once designated as National Statistics it's a statutory requirement for statistics to follow and comply with the Code of Practice for Statistics to be observed.

Find out more about the standards we follow to produce these statistics through our Standards for official statistics published by DfE guidance.

Contact us

Ask questions and provide feedback

If you have a specific enquiry about Outcomes for children in need, including children looked after by local authorities in England statistics and data:

Children looked-after data team

Email
CLA.STATS@education.gov.uk

Telephone: Bree Waine
0191 535 8968

Press office

If you have a media enquiry:

Telephone
020 7783 8300

Public enquiries

If you have a general enquiry about the Department for Education (DfE) or education:

Telephone
037 0000 2288