What is a Virtual School?
The Virtual School is a statutory service which fulfils the Local Authority’s statutory duties in ensuring that children and young people in care, previously in care and those with a social worker receive the best possible educational provision and outcomes.
The Children and Families Act 2014 requires councils in England to appoint a Virtual School Head Teacher (VSHT) to discharge the local authority's duty to promote the educational achievement of its children in care. The VSHT is the lead responsible officer for ensuring that arrangements are in place to improve the educational experiences and outcomes of the authority's children in care, including those placed outside the Worcestershire Authority's boundaries.
The remit of the Worcestershire Virtual School includes supporting Children who are Looked After (CLA) from the age of 2 years through their statutory school education. Extension of the Virtual School role now includes supporting our young people through their post-16 years (16 to 18 years). For previously looked-after children (PLAC), the Virtual School will be a source of advice and information to help their parents to advocate for them as effectively as possible. The Virtual School are not acting as part of the corporate parent role in these circumstances, but are there to promote the educational achievement of these children through the provision of advice and information to relevant parties. From September 2021, the Virtual School Head’s role has been extended to include the strategic leadership of promoting the education outcomes of all children and young people with a social worker (CWSW). It covers all children who were assessed as needing a social worker at any time due to safeguarding and/or welfare reasons, which includes all those subject to a Child in Need plan or a Child Protection plan. This includes children aged from 0 up to 18 in all education settings.
Main functions and aims of the Virtual School
Parents want their children to have the best start in life and to reach their full potential. As corporate parents, Worcestershire Local Authority has equally high aspirations for the children they look after.
As such Worcestershire Virtual School will:
- support and challenge schools, carers and all relevant partners to ensure our CLA achieve the best possible educational outcomes and life chances by giving the highest priority to creating a culture of high educational aspirations, with all partners striving for accelerated progress and age-related attainment or better for children looked after
- work collaboratively to ensure our CLA attend the best possible education establishments and are provided with the opportunities to progress and realise their individual potential
- co-ordinate and support effective delivery of Personal Education Plans (PEPs) and monitor their outcomes
- where specific educational concerns are raised ensure appropriate action is taken promptly
- track and monitor attendance, exclusions, progress and personal achievements of our CLA
- manage the Pupil Premium Plus funding for CLA and work with schools to ensure it is used effectively
- encourage, support and celebrate our young people’s successes and achievements. This includes the promotion of children's participation in out of school activities and projects
- provide advice and guidance to children, parents, carers, social workers, schools and others, as appropriate, around the education of CLA and previously looked after children (PLAC)
- provide a range of joint and specific training opportunities to support partners to support the educational needs of CLA, PLAC and CWSW
- maintain an up-to-date roll of its looked-after children who are in school or college settings, and gather information about their education placement, attendance and educational progress through the PEP process
- ensure social workers, designated teachers and schools, carers and IROs understand their role and responsibilities in initiating, developing, reviewing and updating the child’s PEP and how they help meet the needs identified in that PEP
- work to avoid drift or delay in the provision of suitable educational provision, including special educational provision, and unplanned termination of educational arrangements through proactive, multi-agency co-operation. This should be completed in a timely manner and with the best interest of the child as paramount, and may require negotiation with other authorities
Expectations of the Virtual School for other services
The expectation from Worcestershire Virtual School is that all professionals and partners have high aspirations for the children they work with, and work with the Virtual School to ensure our children and young people achieve the best possible educational outcomes and life chances by giving the highest priority to creating a culture of high educational aspiration. We ask professionals and partners to have a continuous dialogue with the Virtual School so that the student is supported in the best possible way. We need to be informed of any issues regarding education and home placement.
We expect school and social workers to complete their sections of the PEP at least three days prior to the PEP date. Both PEP completion and processes are covered in other tutorials.
Virtual School inspection
Following WCF’s ILACS inspection in May 2023, Ofsted reported:
‘29. The virtual school ensures that most children in care receive a good-quality education. Personal education plans (PEPs) appropriately identify the additional support children require and as a result they are progressing well. Children are encouraged to enjoy various activities and hobbies.’
The increasing level of need following the impact of Covid-19 and the financial crisis and their societal impacts has made the role of Worcestershire Virtual School even more crucial. The support we provide to our CYP, their carers and our other partners and stakeholders is invaluable and has improved the life chances of many hundreds of Children Looked After, Children Previously Looked After and Children With a Social Worker.
Through Worcestershire Virtual School Learning Advocates leading PEP meetings and providing support and challenge to schools, social care colleagues and other partners, the visibility of our children and young people has increased and educational settings have been challenged to provide a wider and more targeted range of strategies to support their most vulnerable learners.
Worcestershire Virtual School’s mission to create Trauma Informed and Attachment Aware Settings (TIAAS) across the county has improved schools’/settings’ ability to support our children and young people and improved their educational experience, outcomes and wellbeing.