Lisa Linscott & Dorset Virtual School: Our Journey with Welfare Call

Posted by on 28th February 2022

Lisa Linscott is Virtual School Head and Principal Teacher at Dorset Council.  The Virtual School provides education for children in care (CiC), and also for previously looked after children (PLAC). Its mission is to improve the education and life chances of these children.


Lisa recently engaged Welfare Call to support Dorset Council with:


In this interview, Lisa talks about their goals, the process they went through in choosing Welfare Call as a partner, and the difference it has made.



Welfare Call: What were your goals when you first started looking for a PEP system?

Lisa: Sourcing data and data quality were key, and it was probably one of my highest priorities to get it sorted. I could see that, without it, I was never going to be able to get to a position where I had good governance, and where I had good systems and procedures that were going to serve our children. On a practitioner level in terms of supporting the children, and on a monitoring and evaluation and good governance level, I knew I couldn’t achieve either of those things without a good PEP system being in place.


I certainly didn’t feel that we were going to be able to produce our own to try and do a homemade version, although I know there are some local authorities that are very comfortable with that. Our starting point was that we were already using our own PEP which was paper to paper. I know how long it can take to develop a really good system and to expect us to be able to do that internally just didn’t seem sensible. It might seem like a cost-effective option in the short term but I couldn’t see how it would be a cost-effective option really in the long term. I needed something and I needed it quickly; the Welfare Call ePEP has been tried and tested with thousands and thousands of young people in many local authorities so it seemed like the perfect choice.



How did the process of choosing a new system begin?

Very early on, at a wider virtual school heads meeting held by NAVSH, I took the opportunity to say “I haven’t got a system, any recommendations?” and just kind of asked that open question. Everybody told me what they use, there were quite a few that used Welfare Call and a couple of the people suggested I give them a call afterwards. I followed up with, I think, three or four different local authority virtual school heads, and got them to talk to me about their systems. It was when I spoke to a Virtual School head who basically put Welfare Call up on the screen and said “Look, Lisa, this is why I will always tell you that this is the one” that I was convinced. And she kind of did what I would now do really if somebody asked me that question, and she just showed me directly. “Look, this is the functionality it gives me I can just check this” and she was literally doing it there in front of me at a click of a button, including great Analytics. And that was it, I was sold!  Because it was a real live user saying that to me, and showing me, I was convinced. She was saying to me “this one has worked really, really well for us” and I didn’t get that same feeling when I had conversations with other local authorities using different systems.


Having been a Designated Teacher myself back in the day in a couple of different schools, I appreciate you have to accept the fact that, if you’ve got children coming from different local authorities, you will have to deal with those different Local Authorities’ systems. And yes, it used to be a bit of a grumble that that was the case – why on earth isn’t there one way of doing things for children in care? But you know, there isn’t. So, therefore, when I was thinking about it from the perspective of a Designated Teacher and I could see how many local authorities were already using Welfare Call, I thought this would be a plus point as it’s so widely used, and it proved to be true.



Were there any specific factors driving your decision to move to Welfare Call?

I really liked the fact that you were able to look at the PEPs of other local authorities and create something specific to us built on our needs and best practice, as opposed to just a standard format. It felt very open, it didn’t feel like you were trying to direct us down a particular route. I found it really helpful in terms of winning over my confidence in terms of the process of making the decision in the first place.


We were aware Ofsted was on the way. Really it could be any day and certainly within a year – there was no way we would get left longer than a year and that was the other pressure from my perspective to move quickly. I don’t do things just for Ofsted but, actually, if you get it right with the Ofsted framework, you’re probably getting it right for your children. So I self-evaluated very early on against the Ofsted framework and that just gave me everything I needed to tell me that I had to have the Welfare Call ePEP. And I had 100% support from my DCS for that; she told me to “just do it!”


One of the things for us is that we realised that we wanted to have a really clear meeting notes structure. We wanted to have an ability to record the actions of professionals because what we were finding, as all Virtual Schools do, is that effective target setting is incredibly difficult to get consistent. And initially, what we kept finding was that people were putting actions for professionals in as targets, but targets are supposed to be for the children. So we asked for Welfare Call to add in a meeting notes page where we could record the actions for professionals; we thought that would be a good solution making it really clear how you separate out the two. It was just it was done. That’s one of the other things that I really love about working with Welfare Call.  Rachel, Jennie, Andy, and James, come back really, really quickly. And the changes that I’ve asked to have made have been done almost instantaneously, so that’s been really reassuring.

Even in the actual Ofsted inspection where, all of a sudden, I realised that in Analytics I couldn’t see something that I needed to be able to see in one of the child level tables, I called James up and he just quickly changed it so that I had what I needed to analyse for the inspection. I just thought was it really lovely.



How difficult was it to get others on board when you brought in a new system?

What came with Welfare Call was a much higher expectation around what a good PEP looks like. And I don’t just mean the paperwork, I mean the whole living experience for the child, and that every PEP will be quality assured. Welfare Call gave really good training to make it really clear; they did that for our Virtual School and social workers who were able to attend. The nice thing about that was that we then got some real advocates amongst our social workers saying “oh my goodness, this is great”.



Was it an easy procurement process?

Local Authorities have a set commissioning process that they have to go to, and that isn’t necessarily quick. It requires comparison and it requires really detailed understanding of the requirements. I tried to move us through that commissioning process as swiftly as I possibly could. Alternative frameworks were useful, and Welfare Call provided details of these to me so that we were then able to utilise G-Cloud.



How has your experience been so far working with the Welfare Call team?

I didn’t appreciate it when Jennie explained that she was my  relationship manager and we’d have  regular reviews’, I thought “yeah, yeah, I’ll just use the system, I don’t need all that relationship gubbins.” Well, I was wrong. Because actually, it is a crucial part of it. For example, I booked a session with Jamie once I knew that Ofsted were coming to go through our Analytics data. And I would kind of say “well, this is what I’m seeing, is that what you’re seeing? And I think I should point this out. This looks chunky, this bit here has to do with something to do with attendance. I can’t really hide that. I’m gonna have to say that.” He kind of did a little bit of comparison and suggested looking at it in a different way. And it was something that, even though I would say that data analysis is a strength for me, it was something that I haven’t quite seen in that way. Because he’s got that wider knowledge of all the Virtual Schools, he could say “do you know what Lisa, in the scope of 26,000 children, that’s actually not that bad”.


Ultimately, you can buy into Welfare Call solution with all their Analytics, but you get something above and beyond that because of the way that the people part of it works.



How do you make the data and insights provided via Welfare Call work for you?

Analytics has made all the difference. I have a governance system that’s really, really robust that absolutely relies on things like what the PEP quality assurance is telling me at the end of the term. The attendance breakdown and which children we’re focusing on is at my fingertips instantly. That means that I can be giving that kind of live feedback to the team.



What Analytics does, I think, is take the grunt work out of the data management and then you can focus on actually what it’s telling you; you can get down to the nitty-gritty of the data more and use your data performance staff in a slightly different way to delve into the questions.


Analytics for me, in terms of the leadership of the Virtual School, is the most essential thing that I have. I was literally reporting back each month to our senior leaders, so our DCS and I would be saying things like the average time it’s taking us to complete a PEP is 20.57 days, we are aiming to get to under 20 days. It was that level of specifics. Often you instinctively know what’s wrong, but it’s almost like you’ve got to have the evidence to be able to actually do something about it.


Analytics enables you to have that really good grip. It’s brilliant, and I don’t think there would have been so much positive impact without it.



How do you measure Pupil Premium effectiveness?

I think it’s really important that the Virtual School can see whether its funding is effective or not. And, okay, you can always look at that on an individual PEP level. But what the Welfare Call system enables you to do is to be able to look at that more systematically and understand whether you’re spending in the right direction or not.

Actually, what our first and second run-through of looking at that termly analysis did was that it told me that I couldn’t tell the answer to that. Isn’t that interesting? It told me nothing conclusive about where the effective spend was, and the reason for that was because what it told me was that the large majority of my targets for my children were being part-met. And what that told me was that the targets were too big and they weren’t smart enough. What that enabled me to do was some further CPD for the team and for Designated Teachers around effective target setting. The point is that it stared me in the face when I used Analytics. It was so obvious that that was something that we weren’t quite getting right. It didn’t mean that they were picking the wrong targets, it just meant that they weren’t chunking them down enough.



If another Virtual Head were to contact you and ask your opinion on Welfare Call, as you did when you were at the start of your process, what would you say?

I’d say 100% to use it because it does everything that you need it to, and more. It’s simple and easy to use. It helps you to make sure that you’ve got really high standards across everything to do with the Virtual School. And it enables you to have a great grip and a great ability to be able to then report that in terms of whatever your governance structure is. It will give you everything you need to be able to do that.


The fact that you can evidence things to colleagues has been a huge help. For example, you can see how many days a Social Worker has taken to get a PEP completed and that in itself is information that is really valuable. Being able to report on those things each month and take appropriate action accordingly means that all of those things have moved forward.


When you’re preparing for Ofsted, you want to be able to have your numbers at your fingertips. Because I had my numbers at my fingertips because of Analytics, when our DCS put us through a practice prior to Ofsted, and I did a practice with her in front of everybody, I just knew my numbers. Because I was so familiar with them, and because I’d been looking at them and reporting on them very regularly, I knew what the improvement had been from last term to this term and what we had done about it, what we were going to do to take our next steps forward with it, what we were aiming for, what good looks like to us. It was all there.


Any of these things will only be as good as the person that sits at the end of the computer using it, but what you have done is made it really easy for the person at the end of the computer to use it, and to use it effectively. You’ve made it as easy as it possibly could be!






Dorset Virtual School

Lisa Linscott is Virtual School Head and Principal Teacher at Dorset Council.  The Virtual School provides education for children in care (CiC), and also for previously looked after children (PLAC). Its mission is to improve the education and life chances of these children.

Their learners range from 3 to 18 years old and attend real schools or educational settings. The Designated Teacher of each real school provides them with information about their learners and their progress, so they track each young person through their education. The Virtual School team advises on what support is available to help learners achieve their outcomes.


The school is responsible for four groups of children and young people:

  • Dorset children in care educated in Dorset
  • Dorset children in care educated in other local authorities
  • adopted children who were previously looked after
  • children who are under special guardianship orders (SGO) who were previously looked after