A child psychologist has raised concern over Government plans to make the best schools take on children in care to improve their life chances.

Under new proposals published this week, local education authorities will be expected to ensure youngsters in care are placed at topperforming schools.

In Birmingham, it could mean schools such as Bournville School, Hall Green School, Kings Norton Girls School and Ninestiles School becoming the main destinations for the city's 2,000 children in care.

However, Sue Morris, an expert in child social and emotional development at Birmingham University, said some youngsters might find the contrast of environment destabilising.

And although applauding the sentiment behind the drive, she warned they could end up doing worse than they otherwise would.

"I think it is good that a school can't use the defence that they are full and then extra capacity can be found for other groups of children," she said.

"But the question of what school is suitable should be considered more holistically.

"There is the danger of transporting children into alien environments where there aren't people like them or getting the sense they are resented by pupils or staff.

"Also, having huge treks across the city to get to a school that is going to be great for GCSEs might be worse for attainment because of the trek and the alienation when they get there."

Reforms announced by Education Secretary Alan Johnson this week outline a range of measures to improve the chances of "society's most vulnerable children" living in care.

They include encouraging local authorities to provide them free access to all their facilities including leisure centres, sports grounds and youth clubs.

Greater financial support for care children is also being proposed including a #2,000 bursary to enable them to go to university and an extra #100 a year under the Child Trust Fund scheme.

The reforms will also give local authorities the "power to direct schools to admit children in care even when the school is already full - backed up by an expectation on local authorities to place children in care in the best schools".

Mr Johnson said: "The mark of a decent society is how it treats its most vulnerable people.

"As a proxy parent, the state must raise its ambitions for these children, just as a good parent would, and transform their life chances through better emotional, practical and financial support at home and in the classroom." There are currently almost 7,000 children living in care in the West Midlands and 60,000 nationally.

They under-perform significantly in relation to their peers. Only 11 per cent of children in care attained five good GCSEs last year compared with 56 per cent for all children.

More than 30 per cent of young people leaving care are not in education, employment or training at age 19 compared to 13 per cent of their peers.

They are also disproportionately highly represented in prisons.

Under Birmingham City Council's admission policy, schools must already consider cared-for children as a priority.

A spokesman said: "The local authority being able to instruct schools to admit, even when they are full, is a new power which is welcomed, as the city council, as corporate parent, is committed to improving the life chances of children in care."

But the authority shied away from forcing the best schools to take on cared-for children.

"With regards to the preferences selected by the local authority, when applying for a school place for looked after children, this is based on meeting the particular needs of the individual child concerned," said the spokesman.

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