Virtual School Heads role to be extended to ensure focus on children with a social worker

The Government is to extend the role of Virtual School Heads from September this year, meaning there will be a local champion for children with a social worker in every local authority in England.

17/06/21

Virtual School Heads role to be extended to ensure focus on children with a social worker

The Government has today announced more than £16 million for councils to extend the role of Virtual School Heads from September this year.

The Department for Education (DfE) says this means there will now be a ‘local champion’ for children with a social worker in every local authority in England, which will ensure that more focus is placed on children with a social worker, targeting support earlier on in these young people’s lives and helping improve how they engage with education.

The DfE also confirmed a new pilot where Virtual School Heads will support looked-after children and care leavers in post-16 education. Launching in October, the pilot will extend Virtual School Heads’ roles to expand their work into further education settings.

Both programmes will build on the existing role of a Virtual School Head, who help champion and improve the educational outcomes for children in or on the edge of care, enhancing relationships between schools, colleges, and local authorities so that pupils receive support from professionals that will help them develop and progress throughout their time in education.

Children and Families Minister, Vicky Ford, said it is “absolutely vital” that support is provided to children in care and those who are known to social services to overcome the barriers in education.

“Our Virtual School Heads are already doing a phenomenal job supporting children in care and working closely with schools and delivering significant improvements to their educational outcomes.

“That’s why we are extending their role, so that their leadership and experience can benefit other children with social workers, boosting their attainment and attendance and ensuring they can access support that meets their needs.”

The extension was a key recommendation of the Government’s Children in Need review in 2019, which looked at what further support children in need of help and protection may require.

The Government also hopes that the enhanced role will “be central” to the Government’s education recovery package and its efforts to reach and benefit vulnerable children and children with a social worker.

As part of the extension of the role, Virtual School Heads will now be able to advise on the best use of the Recovery Premium, in addition to the Pupil Premium, to meet their needs and access the National Tutoring Programme to improve their outcomes.

“For many children with a social worker, the pandemic will have increased some of the existing barriers that they faced in education across attendance, learning, behaviour and mental health and wellbeing,” the new guidance stated, continuing: “Going forward, the priority is to reduce the impact of lost learning on all children and ensure that they are supported to progress and fulfil their potential. For children with a social worker, this will involve addressing existing barriers to education as well as ensuring that they can benefit fully from support available, including as part of the Government’s support to boost education recovery.”

The extended role will also include responsibilities such as increasing awareness among schools, colleges, and social workers of the role of education and improving the visibility of support services, as well as advocating for children with a social worker in local authority planning.

Patrick Ward, chair of the National Association of Virtual School Heads (NAVSH), welcomed the announcement.

“It is particularly pleasing to note that sufficient additional resources have been allocated to deliver on the aims identified. It has been refreshing to work in partnership with the Department for Education and colleagues from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services to make this happen. I hope this successful way of working continues in the future.”

The role will still be limited to so-called ‘strategic leadership’, however, meaning Virtual School Heads will not be required to work with individual children and their families – including tracking and monitoring educational progress of individual children or providing academic or other interventions.

The pilot programme for looked-after children and care leavers in post-16 education will run in a selected group of local authorities for six months, and local authorities interested in taking part will be able to apply through an expression of interest process to be launched next month.

The DfE says it is now inviting Virtual School Heads to participate in research commissioned by the Department to help develop a “strong evidence base” for good practice in the role, asking all local authorities to share information about how their Virtual School Head has been supporting children with a social worker and what funding has been used for.

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