Midland children caring for sick and infirm parents are failing at school because teachers are not giving them enough flexibility, campaigners warned last night.

As a result, they leave school without qualifications and do not see a future beyond caring, The Princess Royal Trust for Carers claimed.

There are more than 22,000 school-age carers in the West Midlands according to the 2001 census.

However, separate research by the trust indicates the figure could be nearly four times higher.

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Many of them will be looking after disabled parents, though some will be struggling to care for alcoholics and drug addicts.

The trust called upon schools to be more considerate towards school-age carers.

"Young carers often tell us the they don't see a future beyond caring because they don't have any qualifications," said Alex Fox, young carers development manager at the trust.

"We can't always ensure that families find a better source of support than a young person, but we want to make sure that young carers receive a fair education so they can have a future."

Research by the trust indicates 82 per cent of young carers nationally are not given any allowances by their school to help with their responsibilities.

Most would like more flexibility with deadlines for work, indicated by the fact that 40 per cent admitted they had trouble getting their homework in on time.

They also ask for access to a mobile phone to check on the person they are caring for and permission to leave school early if there is a problem.

Mr Fox said: "Giving young carers time to do their homework is not about them shirking their responsibilities.

"We want schools to be a bit more flexible to make sure they get an education like other young people."

Anecdotal evidence gathered by the trust suggests young carers are more likely to experience bullying, fall asleep during lessons, feel isolated from peers and miss days off school.

According to census figures, 1.5 per cent of the West Midland's one million five-to-19-year-olds are carers.

But a separate poll by the trust last year found eight per cent of 7-19-year-olds in the region were looking after someone with an illness.

The discrepancy is believed to arise because parents were reluctant to admit they are being looked after by their children.