The Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi has said private schools should offer more boarding places to looked-after children to improve outcomes for them and to help independent facilities become more ‘embedded’ in the education system.

His comments on BBC2’s Newsnight on Wednesday follow a report in June by the government-backed Boarding Schools Partnership (BSP), which said boarding schools can break the cycle of risk for vulnerable people and urged local authorities to send children in or at risk of going into care to them.

Zahawi (pictured), who praised Eton College and 40 other private schools for pledging support to the BSP initiative by opening up places for looked-after boarders, said: ‘It is incumbent on all of us in a country as civilised, as wealthy as our country – we should be providing the best opportunities for these kids, not simply managing them.’

The BSP’s report was based on the findings of 52 vulnerable children in or at risk of going into care who were sent by Norfolk County Council to 11 independent schools over the past decade. It found they showed a ‘reduced level of risk’ and better school performance.

In last year’s general election, Labour pledged to abolish VAT-free school fees but Zahawi said if the independent [schools] sector ‘becomes embedded’ in helping deliver the best outcomes for vulnerable children, there is ‘no better way’ for them to make their argument for their charitable status and VAT exemptions.

However, giving a ‘guarded welcome’ to the initiative the Education Policy Institute’s executive director Natalie Perera told Newsnight: ‘We don’t know whether these kinds of interventions can be transformative to looked-after children. The study in Norfolk only looked at very tiny numbers. What we do know is that boarding schools can provide a safer space for many young children, but there’s a real danger that we only focus on a few interventions that helps a tiny minority of looked after children and we cannot forget about the 70,000 children nationally who are in care.’