The Role of the Virtual School
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This procedure outlines the role of the Virtual School in Calderdale in raising the attainment of Looked After and Previously Looked After Children.
AMENDMENTIn July 2019, this guidance was reviewed and updated throughout to reflect the role of the Virtual School in Calderdale.
The Virtual School is a core service within Children and Young People's Service.
The Virtual School provides advice and support to children and young people 0-19 years who are Looked After or Previously Looked After, teachers, nursery staff, school governors, support services, social workers, parents and carers.
As leaders responsible for ensuring that the local authority discharges its duty to promote the educational achievement of their Looked After and Previously Looked After Children, Directors of Children's Services and Lead Members for Children's Services should ensure that:
- Closing the attainment and progress gap between Looked After and Previously Looked After Children and their peers and creating a culture of high aspirations for them is a top priority;
- Looked After and Previously Looked After Children have access to a suitable range of high quality education placement options and that commissioning services for them takes account of the duty to promote their educational achievement;
- VSHs are in place and have the resources, time, training and support they need to discharge the duty effectively;
- VSHs have robust procedures in place to monitor the attendance and educational progress of the children their authority looks after;
- The authority's Children in Care Council (CiCC) regularly addresses the educational experiences raised by Looked After and Previously Looked After Children and is able to respond effectively to such issues.
The Virtual School Head should be the lead responsible officer for ensuring that schools have arrangements in place to improve the educational experiences and outcomes of the authority's Children Looked After, including those placed out-of-authority.
VSHs should ensure the educational attainment and progress of Children Looked After are monitored and evaluated as if those children attended a single school.
For Children Looked After, the VSH should ensure that there are effective systems in place to:
- Ensure the status of the child and their entitlement to support is made clear to all the professionals supporting that child;
- Maintain an up-to-date roll of its Children Looked After who are in school or college settings and gather information about their education placement, attendance and educational progress;
- Inform head teachers and Designated Teachers in schools if they have a child on roll who is Looked After and ensure they understand their need to know the children on their roll classed as Previously Looked After Children;
- Ensure that social workers, Designated Teachers and schools, carers and IROs understand their role and responsibilities in initiating, developing, reviewing and updating the child's Personal Education Plan (PEP) and how they help meet the needs identified in that PEP;
- Ensure up-to-date, effective and high quality PEPs that focus on educational outcomes and that all Looked After children, wherever they are placed, have such a PEP;
- Avoid drift or delay in providing suitable educational provision, including special educational provision, and unplanned termination of educational arrangements through proactive multi-agency co-operation. Where this requires negotiation with other authorities this should be completed in a timely manner and with the best interest of the child as paramount;
- Ensure the educational achievement of Children Looked After by the authority is seen as a priority by everyone who has responsibilities for promoting their welfare;
- Report regularly on the attainment of Children Looked After through the authority's corporate parenting structures.
For Previously Looked After Children the VSH should ensure:
- They promote their educational achievement through the provision of information and advice to their parents, educators and others who the VSH considers necessary;
- That with the Director they establish the extent of their offer to parents or those with Parental Responsibility;
- The child is eligible for support by asking the child's parents or, those who have Parental Responsibility, for evidence of their previously looked-after status (or where this is not possible, to use their discretion in conjunction with the school);
- They respond to requests for advice and information – e.g. advice on school admissions in their area and sign-post them to other services that can offer support and advice;
- They respond to requests for advice and information from providers of early education, Designated Teachers in maintained schools and academies, and providers of alternative provision in their area in respect of individual children supported by the local authority;
- They develop / build on existing good working relationship with Designated Teachers for Previously Looked After Children in their area;
- They improve awareness of the vulnerability and needs of Previously Looked After Children by providers of early education, Designated Teachers in maintained schools and academies, and providers of alternative provision in their area in respect of individual children supported by the local authority. This should include promoting good practice on identifying and meeting their needs, and guidance on effective use of the PP+.
However, it is important to note that the local authority is not the corporate parent for Previously Looked After Children. Any intervention in the education of a Previously Looked After Child must be with the agreement of the person(s) who have Parental Responsibility for the child. They, like all parents, are responsible for overseeing their child's progress in education.
Social workers, Virtual School Heads and Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs), school admission officers and Special Educational Needs departments should work together to ensure that - except in an emergency - appropriate education provision for a child is arranged at the same time as a care placement.
Governing bodies should ensure that appropriate staff have the information they need in relation to a child's Looked After legal status. The Designated Safeguarding Lead, through the Designated Teacher for Looked After children and Previously Looked After Children, should have details of the child's social worker and the name of the Virtual School Head.
A Previously Looked After Child potentially remains vulnerable, and all staff should have the skills, knowledge and understanding to keep Previously Looked After Children safe. When dealing with Children Looked After and Previously Looked After Children, it is important that all agencies work together and prompt action is taken on concerns to safeguard these children, who are a particularly vulnerable group.
The Virtual School Head is integral to ensuring that local authorities discharge their duty to provide suitable advice and information for the purpose of promoting the educational achievement of Previously Looked After Children. They can also undertake any activity they consider appropriate where that activity will promote the educational achievement of such children in their area. The VSH should promote a culture that takes account of the child's views according to age and understanding in identifying and meeting their educational needs.
The Virtual School monitors the educational provision, attendance, progress and attainment of all Calderdale Children Looked After Children, irrespective of where they are placed. The aims of the Virtual School are to promote achievement, raise attainment and ensure equality of opportunity to enhance the life chances of all Children Looked After. The Virtual School plays a strategic role in ensuring the corporate parenting responsibilities of the Local Authority, with regard to the education of Children Looked After are met.
Current staffing comprises: The Virtual School Head (VSH); five Key Stage Co-ordinators who are responsible for a specific cohort of young people, two Learning Mentors and an Administrator.
The Virtual School Head has the additional responsibility of acting as a conduit, and offering advice as appropriate on Children Looked After who are placed in Calderdale school by other local authorities.
There is a Virtual School Head who oversees the Virtual School and works strategically with key partners. The Virtual School Head monitors the engagement, attainment and progress for all Children Looked After. There are five Virtual School Coordinators and they work with different age groups based on their areas of teaching expertise. The coordinators are the main contact with the children and young people, the schools and education settings and the carers. They work closely with each child's social worker and other professionals who may be working with the child. The coordinators lead the Personal Education Plan (PEP) meetings for each child and work with schools to review the PEP Targets each term.
There are two Learning Mentors within Calderdale Virtual School. Their role is around providing that additional 1:1 support where needed, or supporting a child in class. They provide a vast range of interventions including handwriting support, exam preparation, Growth Mindset or self-esteem activities, literacy and numeracy support.