How can we help Virtual School heads get children in care the education they need?
An article caught my eye earlier this month on the challenges of getting children in care the education they need. It goes on to say that Virtual School heads lack the powers they need in the face of “pushback” from schools and that Councils are ‘failing as a corporate parent’.
It’s a difficult subject and I wanted to look in more detail at the cause of the issue, and what we as a supplier can do to help solve the problem.
Essentially, Virtual School heads have an expectation placed on them that looked after children should be placed in an education provision with either a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ Ofsted rating unless there are exceptional evidence-based reasons to put them in a school which is ‘requiring improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ (here’s the link to the statutory guidance for LAs Promoting the education of looked-after children and previously looked-after children (publishing.service.gov.uk)
What this means is that there is a limit on the volume of education provisions available for looked after children to be placed in – but for the right reasons as it is deemed that schools rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ are better prepared to support the individual needs of the children.
The article also talks about the government not collecting data on looked-after children missing in education, leading to a lack of accountability for councils and virtual school heads.
The inability to collect data on looked after children due to them not having a school place leaves a huge safeguarding concern but also exacerbates the issue of them not being able to achieve the same outcomes as their peers. The emphasis on Virtual Schools is to ‘narrow the attainment gap’ but this can’t be achieved if a child is identified as ‘missing in education’ or attending an unregulated provision.
It has been well documented that there is a direct correlation between a child attending school and the outcomes they can achieve, so there’s clearly a need to address the problem. What can be done? There are a number of ways we help Virtual Heads:
- We are an early identifier as to when a school placement is breaking down. For example, we spot trends such as increases in unauthorised absences, exclusions being recorded, etc. which enables the Virtual School and key stakeholders to prepare accordingly and seek alternate arrangements/ a more suitable provision
- We’re often informed of a school change prior to the authority’s internal systems being updated. Unfortunately, sometimes the social worker/carer has already authorised a school change and the Virtual School have known nothing about it, we can flag this as soon we’re aware.
- We collect assessment data so we can help identify if there is a direct correlation between placement breakdowns and the grades a child has attained (stability index).
- We provide an ePEP platform that allows all key stakeholders – Virtual School, Social Worker and Carers – to formulate a plan of action if a child is without a school place to ensure the disengagement from education is kept to a minimum amount.
- Our Analytics offering shows if there is a direct correlation between the Ofsted rating of a school and the attendance rates/outcomes the children within them gain, invaluable in supporting this very vulnerable group.
Welfare Call currently works with over 100 local authorities in the UK, helping education services, social services, and children’s and families’ departments in meeting their statutory obligations and duties with regards to monitoring vulnerable children and improving their educational outcomes.