The government has promised to take action after a new report today catalogues the "shocking" levels of disadvantage suffered by children in care in the UK.
Research by children's charity Barnardo's reveals that the vast majority of children in care leave school with no GCSEs or other qualifications, which ensures there is no chance of breaking the "cycle of deprivation" when they become adults.
Just 11 per cent of the 80,000 children in local authority care in the UK received grade C or above in at least five GCSEs last year, compared to the average of 55 per cent.
And this has a clear effect on their futures - a survey by Barnardo's of 66 young people aged 16 to 21 who had been in care finds that 53 per cent are not in any kind of employment or training.
"Many looked after children have both academic potential and the desire to work hard, and would have liked to succeed in education. But the state, as a parent, fails them terribly," said the charity's chief executive, Martin Narey.
"Dreadful GCSE results compound the disadvantages they face and commit them to unemployment and long term disadvantage."
The charity blames the "chaotic" lifestyle of children in care for much of their problems - six per cent of the young people in its survey had lived in more than 24 places, while half had been in more than four different homes.
More than a third said that no-one had attended their school parents' evening and almost half said no-one went to their sports day. A separate NOP poll of 500 families of GCSE students revealed 96 per cent had attended parents' evening, and 72 per cent sports day.
The government has promised action in the past to tackle the issue of children in care - in 2003, it pledged that no more than ten per cent of pupils who had spent at least a year in care would leave school without sitting a GCSE-equivalent exam.
But last year, 36 per cent took no exams. The target to increase the percentage of 16-year-olds in care gaining five grade C or above GCSEs to 19.5 per cent by 2005 has also been missed, with just 10.8 per cent of young people achieving this last year.
A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) admitted that children in care "often underachieve significantly", but said a green paper would soon be published outlining a "wide package of reforms" to help their life chances.
Meanwhile, ministers had already introduced regulation to ensure children in care are given top priority in school admissions, he said, and had given local authorities the power to order a school to admit a care child.
"We think the Barnardo's report is an important contribution to the debate and look forward to working with them on improving the educational achievement of looked after children," he added.