The contribution of Virtual School Headteachers to improving outcomes for looked-after children

What do you think is the role of a Virtual School Headteacher?

On Friday 21st March 2014, the Rees Centre, together with the Virtual School for Looked-after Children and Care Leavers in Oxfordshire, co-hosted the National Virtual School Headteachers’ Conference. The theme of the conference was ‘The contribution of Virtual School Headteachers to developing resilience in Children in Care’.

This is an exciting moment in time in the education of children in care. The new Children and Families Act makes the role of the Virtual School Head a statutory requirement for each local authority. The educational attainment of children in care, while improving, is not doing so fast enough. The role of the Virtual School Head, who champions the education of children in local authority care as if they all attended the same school, has been shown to have a positive impact on educational progress.

Carlena Kirk, a care experienced young person who was part of a group presenting at the conference, spoke to attendees and asked:

“What do you think is the role of a Virtual School Headteacher?”

She received a range of replies:

“To oversee the progress of all looked-after children living in a local area, to monitor how they’re getting on at school, and to hold schools to account to make sure they do the very best for all their children, but especially looked-after children.”

“I see the role as the leader of a team that ensures the attainment, achievement and aspirations of young people in care are of the highest quality and standard.”

“To ensure all children attach, attend and achieve at their schools and beyond.”

“To make sure that all the looked-after children get the best education possible. And do well in life – just have a good life.”

“To coordinate the work of lots of people that are involved with children in a coordinated way, to benefit an individual child.”

“To support young people to achieve better outcomes, to challenge schools to ensure that they are providing first-class education and have high expectations for our young people, to enable them to do the best they can – whatever that is – to reach their potential. I agree [with the young people presenting] it may not be a GCSE. We’ve celebrated a young woman who achieved an Entry Level 2, and that was because that was phenomenal for her.”

“To do everything that we can to make sure that young people reach their potential, that we help them fulfill their dreams, we do everything that we would do with our own children – so making sure that people go to parents’ evenings, give them extra tuition, helps them go to clubs or football academies. Whatever their interests are, we try and make sure that they fulfill them.”

“To make sure that our young person in care gets the best education possible, and that they maximise their potential.”

“Making a difference for children in care, in terms of their education and their possibilities. I always say you can’t change people’s pasts, but you can change the future – and education holds the key.”

“It starts with a challenge: you’ve got to challenge every single person involved in their lives, to make sure they give their absolute best that they possibly can to the young person in care. Following the challenges are support: you’ve then got to support every single person in the young person’s life and that young person themselves, to make sure that the absolute best provision continues to happen.”

 All these statements reveal related aspects of the role, and draw on the central importance of:

  • advocating for young people
  • coordinating the contributions of all those around the young person
  • helping the young person to fulfill their potential in whatever format that takes
  • monitoring the quality of provision offered

At the end of their presentation, our group of care experienced young people asked members of the audience to make a pledge stating what they would do when they got back to their jobs in order to improve things for young people in care. You don’t have to have been at the conference to make a pledge – so what can you do?

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