The extended role of the Virtual School
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. 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.
Why is this new role needed?
The Government’s Children in Need review (2019) identified that:
- 1.6 million children needed a social worker between 2012 and 2018, equivalent to 1 in 10 children or 3 in every classroom
- these children are around 3 times more likely to be persistently absent from school and between 2 to 4 times more likely to be permanently excluded than their peers
- these children are present in 98% of state schools and face barriers to education due to experience of adversity and trauma
- on average children with a social worker do worse than their peers at every stage of their education
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) has affected all children and for many of the most vulnerable has increased barriers to education. It is essential that the cohort of children with a social worker are supported to recover from the pandemic
Why are Virtual School taking on this role?
The Children in Need review (2019) recognised the crucial role that Virtual School Heads have in raising aspirations and promoting the educational achievement of our children placed in care and previously looked after.
The cohort of children and young people with a social worker have not had the benefit of a strategic leader that is able to champion their educational needs. Virtual School are experienced in helping education settings and local authorities work together and can offer advice and support to teachers and social workers, with the aim of narrowing the attainment gap.
What are the aims of this role?
The key aims are to:
- make visible the disadvantages that children with a social worker can experience, enhancing partnerships between education settings and local authorities to help all agencies hold high aspirations for these children
- promote practice that supports children’s engagement in education, recognising that attending an education setting can be an important factor in helping to keep children safe from harm
- level up children’s outcomes and narrow the attainment gap so every child can reach their potential. This will include helping to make sure that children with a social worker benefit from support to recover from the impact of COVID-19
Virtual School Heads are not being asked to
- work with individual children and their families - including tracking and monitoring educational progress of individual children or providing academic or other interventions
- respond to requests from parents or carers to offer advice, intervention and support in relation to individual children with a social worker
- take responsibility for children with Special Education Needs and Disability (SEND) who do not require or need a social worker, as defined above
What can Virtual School offer?
Although we are unable to offer advice on individual children, we can:
- offer advice and signpost schools and educational settings to additional services and ensure that they receive the support required to help their cohort of children with a social worker
- offer training opportunities to develop schools and educational settings understanding around attachment and trauma
- support schools and educational settings and social workers on how they can work together to support improvements in attendance, punctuality and behaviour to avoid exclusion
- training on interventions known to make the biggest impact for children with a social worker. For example: What Works in Education for Children Who Have Had Social Workers identifies the impacts of educational interventions on the attainment of young people who have had a social worker
- offer advice on educational issues to social workers to include: attainment data, SEND processes, attendance, exclusions and reduced timetables