Children and young people who have been in care make up less than one per cent of the population, yet they account for half the inmates in young offenders' institutions and a quarter of adult prisoners. Some estimates are that almost half of young women leaving care are pregnant or already have a child and by 19 they are eight times more likely to be mothers than others in their age group. Two years after leaving care, 80 per cent of young people are unemployed; many experience homelessness. A high proportion suffer from poor physical and mental health and struggle with problems arising from misuse of alcohol and drugs. Longitudinal research has shown that well-being in almost every aspect of adult life is closely related to the educational level achieved but until recently the vast majority of children in care were denied the chance to obtain any qualifications at all - 'Nobody ever told us school mattered' . For almost half a century their education and school experience was marginalised or ignored by researchers, social workers and the care system.Although the government has made strenuous efforts to improve educational outcomes for looked after children, the gap in attainment compared with children living in their own homes remains obstinately large. Advances at policy level have been slow to translate into improvements on the ground and there are stark differences between local authorities with apparently similar populations. The neglected education of children in state care has become an urgent problem, not only for them but for society as a whole. This lecture suggests that we need to understand its deep historical roots, which find echoes in many other European countries, if we really want them to have a better chance in life.