Data published by the Department as SFR 23/2008: ‘Children looked after in England (including adoption and care leavers) year ending 31 March 2008’, show 47,600 children aged between five and 19 as being looked after by local authorities as at 31 March 2008. The source of this publication is the SSDA903, which does not collect information on whether a child is eligible for free school meals; this information is, however, collected in the School Census which also collects information on whether a child is in care while at their school.
The most recent census data relates to January 2008. The census shows 34,390 pupils aged five to 19 attending primary, secondary and special schools who are classed as being in care as at January 2008. The School Census does not cover all looked after children; information is not collected for pupils in alternative provision, including pupil referral units, FE colleges, voluntary provision and those not in education or training. These differences in coverage will explain the different counts to an extent, but it is possible that the School Census undercounts the number of looked after children in primary, secondary and special schools.
The information requested has been placed in the House of Commons Library.