Derbyshire Virtual School – National Pupil Premium Plus Runner Up

posted Aug 29, 2017, 4:44 PM by Jane Pickthall

We were so impressed to hear about Derbyshire's success at the Pupil Premium Awards we asked their VSH to tell us all about it...

A Guest Blog by Kim Brooks, VSH Derbyshire

The 2017 National Pupil Premium Awards had a new category this year – Pupil Premium Plus – for children in or previously in care. These awards recognised and celebrated the achievements of schools in using the pupil premium to make a difference to the lives of disadvantaged pupils.

Derbyshire Virtual School submitted an application based on two of its very innovative programmes. The first our Attachment Aware Schools Programme, the second our Creative Mentoring programme.    We were delighted to be selected as finalists for this very prestigious award so on 29th June members of the Virtual School team along with a Service Director and an Elected Member attended the ceremony.

The awards presented at a reception at the Houses of Parliament overlooking the Thames was packed with nominees from around the country and was opened by the new minister for children and families Robert Goodwill. He praised the nominees, saying, “The work you are doing in your schools is exceptional, it demonstrates that when used innovatively and effectively, the pupil premium can transform the lives of disadvantaged pupils”.

Rob Grimshaw, chief executive of the Times Educational Supplement also said, “You’ve all demonstrated innovative use of pupil premium funding to directly support pupils who need most help”.

The work Derbyshire Virtual school is doing with our Derbyshire schools  is truly innovative and we are seeing amazing results through both the individualised use of Pupil Premium Plus and through our  Attachment programme with schools. Whilst we were pipped at the post by an Academy in Wigan who were the National Winner, Derbyshire Virtual School was Pupil Premium Plus National Runner Up – and we have a framed certificate that says so!

It was a great achievement for the team not only to be shortlisted but to be finalists. The feedback from the judging panel that, “Derbyshire were a strong second. Their approach to developing attachment aware practice across the county is particularly strong. We saw very considerable strategic commitment based on an understanding in depth of the needs of children and highly effective and embedded delivery. The extent to which schools and other partners have committed to the approach is testament to a skilled operational implementation. This is a Virtual School that really understands its corporate parenting role and matches it with impressive and innovative practice.”

The DfE commented that ,”it was the first year that we’ve had a Pupil Premium Plus category and while we were really happy with the quantity and quality of applications, we will think about how we can improve the category for next time, perhaps by having separate sub-categories for schools and for virtual schools. We’ll also try and work with NAVSH at an earlier stage to get a little more publicity for the Awards before we open up for applications”.

For more information please contact Kim Brooks, Virtual School Headteacher on

Helen White DfE Lead on Children in Care Conference Speech March 2017

posted Aug 29, 2017, 4:38 PM by Jane Pickthall

Due to the terrorist attack at Westminster Helen was unable to attend the NAVSH Conference but kindly shared her speech with us. 

I would like to start by taking you back in time to 2006, before bringing us back to the present day. There are many recent changes and reforms that I’d like to update you on today but, for now, let me remind you of what happened in 2006.

Kiran Desai won the Booker Prize. James Brown, Saddam Hussein, and Gerald Ford died. And a little closer to home, Sheffield United were promoted to the Premiership (we’ll skip over how long they lasted there….). And the Arctic Monkeys won the Mercury Music Prize.

And another citizen of Sheffield, a young woman called Helen White, moved to London to help develop policy for Care Matters, a government Green Paper. This was one of my first roles in the civil service and, after many years working on other aspects of children’s social care, I am so pleased to have returned to lead this policy area.

I recently found some of my old emails and files from that time. It made me reflect on how far things have progressed.

Care Matters set out a huge range of policies and ideas to improve the outcomes of looked after children. Not all of the ideas we had back then have been implemented, or have had varying degrees of success. But when I was re-reading Care Matters one proposal stood out as something that has gone beyond what we could even have imagined in 2006.

This was the idea of a “virtual head teacher”, responsible for raising standards for children looked after by the local authority.

This was based on an approach that already existed in some areas like Liverpool, where the number of looked after children getting any GCSEs had jumped from 33% in 2000 to 54% in 2005.

I remember some of the feedback that we had when we were consulting on the idea of virtual school heads. Children and young people in particular were a bit confused about whether this would be a real person or some kind of digital disembodied entity. Others – including young people - spotted the potential in the concept and felt that the virtual head role was a real opportunity to bring a coordinated approach across the authority. They saw the benefit of monitoring outcomes, of being a link between schools and the social care workforce, and of holding a strategic role as advocate and champion for the education of children in care.

So what has changed since 2006?

In terms of Virtual School Heads, from an initial pilot of eleven local authorities, this role in now statutory across the country. The National Association has been established and is playing a key role in representing and supporting you, but also in influencing and supporting us in central government. As the Minister, Edward Timpson, said at this conference last year, you have – as individuals and as an association – risen to a position where you have real currency and clout.  

Making the designated teacher role statutory was also mooted in Care Matters, and again this role is now a well-embedded part of the landscape.

In more recent years we have introduced the Pupil Premium Plus for children in care, which we have put in your hands to manage.

And all of this is reflected in the experiences and outcomes of children in care.  

The other thing that was noticeable in the narrative of Care Matters was the lack of nuance in how we described the outcomes of children in care. The main – in fact the only – comparator was the gap between children in care and all other children. That is, not taking into account the high incidence of SEND or of the trauma, abuse and neglect that many children will have suffered before entering care.

Recent research by the Hadley Centre, University of Bristol, and Coram Voice found that 83% of young people across 6 local authorities felt that being in care had improved their lives. Compared to the general population more looked after children felt safe at home and liked school.

That is something that too often we forget. Care is not in itself a negative thing – it is not the reason that children in care can have low wellbeing, may need additional mental health support, or why they may not achieve the same outcomes in school as their non-looked after peers.

And that is why I welcome the idea of ‘changing the narrative’. As the Rees Centre’s research illustrated, care can be a protective factor. Too often we have – and I include my department here – reinforced a perception of care itself as being a contributing factor to low outcomes.

That is not to say that we have low aspirations for children and young people. We want every child to achieve their full potential. It’s about having a more nuanced, sophisticated understanding and narrative about children’s experiences and characteristics.

So, 11 years on from Care Matters, so much has changed, and yet, as ever, there is more we can all do to help and support children in care.

DfE, NAVSH, Ofsted, the LGA and ADCS have been working together to reflect on the messages from the Rees Centre research. Alan Clifton has played a crucial part in this group, representing your interests and views, and helping us shape our policy and practice.

Reflecting the name of the conference, and building on the Rees Centre research, one workstrand of the group is looking at how we can ‘change the narrative’ around looked after children’s education through what we collect and publish at a national and local level. This means breaking down data, wherever possible, by SEND. It means focusing on progress rather than pure attainment. And it means comparing children in care with children in need not simply all non-looked after children and the ‘gap’.

The DfE statistical first release on looked after children’s outcomes has been published today, which I know you will all be poring over later on. Changes have been made to the outcomes presented to bring them in line with the new outcome measures at key stage 1, key stage 2 and key stage 4 for all children. In particular Progress 8 will help focus on the progress children make, not just their final outcomes. We are also developing an additional progress measure that takes better account of the characteristics, needs and experiences of these children.  

We know how important it is that you have the right tools to interrogate the data and monitor outcomes at a local level.  I think you had a demonstration of the excellent NCER management information tool yesterday.  This is part-funded by the Department for Education and I am sure will prove an invaluable part of your framework of support going forward.

Alongside this, NAVSH have been leading work on the Virtual School Head peer review challenge framework, which I understand is soon to be piloted.  A testament to the seriousness with which you and your representative body take setting and meeting high professional standards.

I’d like to talk now about some of the reforms included in the Children and Social Work Bill.

Firstly, Corporate parenting

Enshrining corporate parenting principles into law is a significant milestone and one DfE and Minister Timpson are hugely proud of.  There has often been discussion about what it means to be a good corporate parent for looked-after children and care leavers – a debate driven initially by Care Matters in 2006. Now we have a clear articulation of what it means. This can only help strengthen the support looked after children and care leavers receive.  

The fifth corporate parenting principle is at the heart of the virtual head role: promoting high aspirations and seeking to ensure the best outcomes for children in care. That’s at the heart of promoting the educational achievement of looked-after children and, by extension, care leavers.  But the work you do touches on all seven of the principles, not just this one.

The principles are about looking at the young person’s needs in the round.  They are about the LA acting as a whole rather than seeing their responsibility just through the eyes of social care.  Education is a vital part of this.  To help make the corporate parenting principles a reality it will be vital for strong relationships between education, social care and other services supporting looked after children and care leavers.

I hope that the corporate parenting principles will help you reinforce to all partners that things shouldn’t be done in isolation without considering the impact on education. For example,implementing a placement move without considering its impact on the child’s schooling; putting off a young person’s ambition to go to a prestigious university just because the local one is cheaper; or moving a young person into independent living at the point where they are about to take A levels.

I know I am preaching to the converted when I say education is so important! Because of this I hope that you will work closely with all your colleagues across the local authority, continuing to build relationships to help ensure every looked after child and care leaver reaches their potential.

We will be consulting on the implementation of Corporate Parenting Principles over the summer, including aspects relevant to you.  I urge you to participate in this and feed in your views.  We will, of course, work closely with NAVSH to ensure that the Association – and your – views are fully reflected.

Secondly, I wanted to talk about changes to the role of the Virtual Head and the Designated Teacher

Children’s needs do not change overnight if they are adopted or leave care through other permanency routes. We know that many of the needs children have because of the abuse and neglect they experienced before they came into care will last for the whole of their childhood – and beyond. And we know that many Virtual School Heads and designated teachers already respond to requests for advice, information and support for this group of children.

The Children and Social Work Bill will change the role of the Virtual Head and Designated Teacher regarding children who leave care via adoption and special guardianship, and for children adopted from care outside of England and Wales.

Extending the role of the Virtual School Head to children who were previously looked after will further boost support for these children building on other entitlements we have put in place over recent years. This includes the free early education from the age of 2, the Early Years and Schools Pupil Premium, and priority school admissions.

We know that in a challenging climate of competing pressures you are concerned about your capacity to provide support to this group of children.  I want to assure you that we are alive to this concern and want to work with you to ensure our commitments in the Bill are a success.

We will be issuing revised statutory guidance on Promoting the Education of Looked After Children, and Roles and Responsibilities of Designated Teachers later this year.  This will make clear that the virtual school head role for this group of children will be different, reflecting the fact that you are not their corporate parent.

The guidance will set out the flexibility to shape and determine the full extent of your offer of support to schools and adoptive parents based on local needs and local circumstances.  But crucially the guidance will also be an opportunity to highlight how the Virtual School can make a real difference to the lives of children adopted from care.

Alongside the guidance there is further help, support and expertise on the needs of these children – not least from PAC UK and Adoption UK, who you will hear from later today.

We are grateful to NAVSH for helping us shape our thinking on the revised guidance so far. I urge you to take part in the consultation later this year so that we can ensure this is as useful as possible to you.  

Although we can by no means mention everything, some of the wider work being undertaken by DfE and across government will also be of interest to you.

Children’s mental health has huge impact on their education.  In January the Prime Minister announced support for young people’s mental health, including a Green Paper on children and young people’s mental health setting out plans to transform services in schools, universities and for families.  

We also want to ensure that children’s mental health needs are better assessed and identified on entry to care.  During the Children and Social Work Bill, Lord Nash announced that we will pilot new approaches to assessing the health and wellbeing of looked-after children to enable improved identification of needs and access to support. We hope to begin these pilots later in spring.

And an Expert Working Group chaired by Alison O’Sullivan and Peter Fonegy, is looking more holistically at the mental health needs of children in care, those adopted from care, and care leavers. They will report in October and make recommendations on what the care pathways for these groups of children should be.

Tom Bennett’s review of behaviour management in schools is due to be published imminently, focusing on leadership, culture, and systems that lead to good pupil behaviour.  While the primary focus of the review was school leadership, culture and systems, it takes into consideration all areas, including special educational needs, that might impact an individual child’s behaviour.   This report is a helpful additional resource we would encourage school leaders and practitioners to access, whilst of course ensuring they adopt strategies that are suited to their local contexts and children’s needs.  We would encourage you to discuss with your local schools what the review report might mean in the context of looked after children.

Finally, turning to Alternative Provision.  This government is committed to improving the outcomes for pupils in AP. We announced plans last year which will help to build a world-leading system of AP, with stronger lines of accountability and new curriculum standards, so that all children have the best possible opportunity to fulfil their potential.

So, from 2006 to 2017. I wonder what we will be discussing in another 11 or 12 years. As a civil servant, I know that change is the only constant – and I suspect this is common across most parts of the public sector.

So going forward, I am keen to focus not on more systemic change but on making the system we now have work as well as possible. Where are there niggles or frustrations that we can help you address? How can we know what is working well and help spread that practice? How can we be a conduit for NAVSH to other parts of the department, or across government?

The changes in the Children and Social Work Bill, improvements to data, the revised guidance, and many other areas have been developed in partnership with NAVSH. In terms looking at tweaks to the system for example, DfE colleagues working on admissions to Academies recently came to one of our working groups to your concerns.  And we have acted as a conduit to policy colleagues working on behaviour, admissions, exclusions and safeguarding.

I know that I speak for the Minister too when I say how much we value this collaborative approach with NAVSH and I hope this partnership working will continue

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the Department for Education and the Minister, to say thank you for all of your continued work, commitment and passion.

Thank you.

Incoming NAVSH Chair Jane Pickthall's Conference Speech March 2017

posted Aug 29, 2017, 4:21 PM by Jane Pickthall   [ updated Aug 29, 2017, 4:26 PM ]

As I take over as chair of the National Association of Virtual School Heads I am grateful to have benefited from Alan’s assured leadership whilst vice chair. The aim of our first year was to start forging links with key partners and raise awareness of the national association. As you have just heard, this has certainly been achieved and so much more. We have been fortunate to have had an initial board of trustees with immense knowledge, experience and commitment that has helped NAVSH get to the point we are at today and I too would like to say a huge thank you to Tony, Matthew, Mike and Diane for helping us to get this far and for the encouragement and expertise of John Freeman whose support has been invaluable. I’m both delighted and relieved that Sally, Sarah, Jane and Sheila have stepped forward to join Alan, Sally-Ann and myself to keep the momentum going. The 3 year plan you have in your packs was developed following feedback from all the regional networks and as you’ll have seen, there’s plenty to do. We hope to further strengthen the links with regional groups to provide opportunities to contribute to delivering on the plan.

We’ve got five priorities with the first being to ‘implement and disseminate a new robust data set’. Those of you who were here yesterday will have seen that significant progress has already been made around the data we’ll be able to access. This data will not only change the narrative, it will help us to write a far more complex narrative that reflects the complexity of the children and young people we work with. It’s credit to the Rees Centre and Bristol University that their report has had such an impact and when we get back to our desks tomorrow we’ll be able to take a fresh look at our outcomes using the Nexus Children in Care dataset and benchmark against this year’s Statistical First Release, published today, that breaks down our data further, recognising that the high number of children with Special Educational Needs impacts on our overall outcomes. Who’d have thought Virtual School Heads would end up with such sophisticated data? The challenge now is what do we do with it?

It might help us decide how best to use the Pupil Premium Plus. It’s time to really focus on the Plus and what it’s adding. Thanks to those who completed the Pupil Premium survey we sent out, we’re starting to gain a better understanding of how it is being used and distributed across the country but we also need to better understand what makes the greatest impact. Unlike those who think it is the same as for students on free school meals, we know many care experienced children need something different that can help address the impact of the trauma and loss they have experienced. We know schools get frustrated about the variation in approaches, especially when they have children from different authorities but it needs to be recognised that we have the same discretion as any other head to direct the funding as we see fit. There is no one size fits all for virtual schools and even less so for looked after children.  

Schools are key to taking our work forward. Although we are held to account over the outcomes of our children and young people, at the end of the day, we don’t actually teach them. We know how important high quality teaching is but what does this look like for care experienced children? Most of us probably have an inkling but how do we influence schools to shift their focus from ‘zero tolerance’ to ‘maximum affinity’? The Quality Standards Sally-Ann has helped develop are being piloted across the country and will help schools identify areas where they have strengths and areas for further development. We know there are some amazing school staff making all the difference for many of our students but if we continue to develop the quality standards work to improve training for designated teachers and work alongside teaching schools and school leadership unions then hopefully the needs of care experienced children will be better understood and addressed. This should lead to greater stability, more remaining in mainstream settings which would then reduce the need for alternative provision. But don’t worry, we’ve included the issue of funding for cross border alternative provision in the plan, just in case. We’re excited by the Children’s Commissioner’s Stability Index and hope that it will focus attention on improving stability across the system which as we know, correlates with improved educational outcomes.

Designated teachers play a vital role but it could be strengthened by high quality training. They are our eyes and ears on the ground, there every day overseeing our looked after children. The best of them go the extra mile, build relationships, advocate and make sure all PEPs are perfect. We need to make sure school leaders understand their importance and give them the time and resources to do the job effectively. As schools find themselves under increasing pressure both with their budgets and outcomes data we know our looked after children are increasingly vulnerable. We will continue to work closely with the DfE and Ofsted to highlight any issues we face and make sure schools are held to account over the way they support care experienced children.

The capacity of Virtual School Heads is something else we will be keeping an eye on. We know that in 80% of SIF reports Virtual schools were praised but capacity issues have also been highlighted. I know that within the room today we have significant variations in terms of capacity, remit, management level, size of team, remuneration, experience and career history. It struck me when reading the biographies of the board members how very different our journeys to becoming a virtual school head had been but also what an amazing source of expertise we have between us. Add to this the focus on research that is one of our charitable aims and we hope that it won’t be long before we have a much better understanding of what works and what makes the greatest difference. Having just been through my local authority’s Ofsted inspection, I’m particularly pleased that the Peer Challenge framework for Virtual Schools is about to be piloted before being rolled out to the regions in the Autumn. This will help us to establish the effectiveness of virtual schools and provide a clear framework for self-assessment.

The last priority is about promoting the social, emotional and mental health of looked after children. We know how important this is to enable children to access learning and we have the data that shows a direct link between poor mental health and poor educational outcomes. We’d like to see more schools completing SDQs, improved access to emotional support and of course, a better understanding of the impact of loss and trauma. I’m going to be handing over to Tony and Judy now who will be saying more about attachment and the research that has become possible thanks to John Timpson’s generosity. It’s nice to know that some of my dry cleaning bill will be helping schools become more attachment aware.

Outgoing NAVSH Chair Alan Clifton's Conference Speech March 2017

posted Aug 29, 2017, 4:08 PM by Jane Pickthall   [ updated Aug 29, 2017, 4:26 PM ]

The Journey So Far

Fo a good number of years there has been some excellent partnership work between Virtual School Heads both regionally and nationally.  The work of the former ‘Steering Group’ was valued and the work undertaken benefitted children in our care.  So the question that arises is why change - has the establishment of the National Association of Virtual School Heads (NAVSH) made a difference?  For me it has been a good start, but it is only a start.

As the first Chair of NAVSH, there were two main aims:

The first one was quite simply to encourage local authorities and Virtual School Heads to become members.  Clearly to encourage membership, we needed to set out our vision and priorities as well as communicating the benefits of membership.  To create a national voice we needed the vast majority of local authorities to be ‘on board.’ We currently have133 local authorities as members.  Our aim has to be to get all local authorities ‘signed up’ to give NAVSH a regionally represented mandate that matches our ambitions.  

The second aim was to establish the NAVSH organisation as a Charity and to communicate the vision we had for children in care.  (Priority 1 in our published priorities for 2016 -17.)  I can, with confidence, state the acronym NAVSH is well known by key partners and whilst there is always more that can be done, we are being contacted and lobbied by other organisations, to provide a view, possibly even more so than we are contacting others.  

I have to be constantly reminded that the formal launch of NAVSH was only in June 2016 at Local Government House in Westminster. At the NAVSH launch in June 2016, I said that I thought there were strong working relationships within the board that enabled us to be an effective team. However, I also said strong working relationships were not enough, by themselves, we needed to have a clear vision of what we wanted to achieve and by when.  Developing our priorities into a three year plan is a logical next step.

Key Partners

NAVSH are working in partnership with the DFE over a number important work streams:

  • Contributing to a Children in Care Expert Seminar Group across health, care and education.

  • Being represented at a Multi Academy Trust (MAT) / DFE discussion group to consider and address the needs of those exhibiting SEND, as well as the needs of Children in Care.  

  • Reviewing the impact of the Pupil Premium Plus.  Are schools using it differently for children in care?  Sharing examples of good practice and the results of our own survey and research.

  • With NCER, DFE and ADCS we have the new data tool we had demonstrations of yesterday

Senior colleagues at the DFE, have assured the Board that we will be able to contribute to new guidance for Designated Teachers, last updated in 2009 and statutory guidance for local authorities on Promoting the Education of looked after children 2014.  We welcome the opportunity to be involved in this work.

The OFSTED Social care report was very helpful around recognising that children in care often make significant progress later than their peers and the schools report highlighted the impact of Virtual School Heads.  Ongoing discussions with OFSTED are important

Attending and being provided with a platform to speak at ADCS and NCASC conference has been especially helpful. Although the experience of seeing photographs and direct quotes on twitter by the time you sit down was a new and somewhat disconcerting experience.

We will hear from adoption UK and PAC UK later this morning along with NNECL they are key partners going forward.


We will in the future undertake and commission our own research. We have developed good working relations with the Institute of Education - University of London.  It is important to highlight the work around Promoting the Achievement of Looked After Children (PALAC)  This work builds on the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as well as work from Bath Spa University and Kate Cains Associates(KCA) to name but two organisation/institutions.  The Attachment Research Community (ARC) has been set up, separately to NAVSH.  The aim being to support and develop best practice for children with unmet attachment needs and trauma.

We have maintained our strong links to the Rees Centre, University of Oxford, and have offered to provide a NAVSH Board member to be part of the, still to be established, research oversight group pertaining to research around attachment.  More of this I am sure from Judy Sebba.  As a national charity it is important to state: NAVSH is ready to work with any organisation with compatible aims and purposes.

I’d like to conclude my year as Chair with a thank you to members and the Board, but more specifically with a special thank you to Jane Pickthall.  Throughout the last year we have lobbied, listened and when necessary argued a case on behalf of NAVSH and Children in our Care together.  I know she doesn’t need me to say it but I wish her and the newly established board, every success in 2017-18.  I know the future of NAVSH is in good hands.  Although I am stepping down from my own role, in North Yorkshire, this summer I will continue in the role of Immediate Past Chair until March 2018 and hopefully, as an Associate member after this.  It has been a pleasure and a privilege being your first Chair and I look forward to NAVSH going from strength to strength in the future.

NAVSH Report to the APPG for Children in Care January 17

posted Jan 25, 2017, 12:08 PM by Jane Pickthall

Fully endorse Corporate Parenting Principles- stability in home lives, relationships and education or work - crucially important.  Essential to consider education at the same time as care planning.

Publication of local offer for care leavers very helpful alongside extension of Personal Adviser role.  An opportunity to share good practice of wider role of Corporate Parents around education and training.

Agree information and advice for promoting educational achievement must be made available.  There should be an opportunity, for NAVSH, to share good practice on how this is best achieved.

NAVSH is strongly in agreement that the person employed to promote educational achievement on behalf of a local authority is employed by a local authority at least at strategic manager level and with sufficient time to perform the role.

With regard to ’relevant child’ NAVSH cautiously welcomes this development recognising that ceasing to have ‘looked after’ legal status does not mean all the challenges a child may experience around trauma and attachments suddenly ceases.

In future statutory guidance it will be important for the DFE to draw a distinction in the role of the local authority as a Corporate Parent for children in its care in comparison to a relevant child where they will not be the Corporate Parent.  The status of this guidance and OFSTED’s role in including this as an inspection focus is essential.  NAVSH will be pleased to contribute to subsequent guidance once the Bill receives Royal Assent.  Updated guidance will also be required for school Governing Bodies and the Designated Person in schools around the expansion of their role to include relevant children and specifically those adopted.  Numbers will remain small in individual schools but there will be an increase in workload.

With regard to the role of a Virtual School Head this proposal, as it stands, will more than double the number of children and young people they may be asked to support.  What is reasonable in practice and what might the expectations of schools, parents and adoptive parents be?  Advice and signposting to training, services to avoid exclusion or assisting with admissions.  Perhaps how the pupil premium might be best utilised to enhance learning and remove barriers to learning.  All of these activities seem reasonable and proportionate to the role of VSH. However, the distinction needs to be made between advice and signposting and intervention at a strategic or operational level. The former can be managed with a small increase in resources, the latter is labour intensive, often complex and may blur the boundaries between children for whom a Virtual Head is the Corporate Parent and children for whom this is not the case.  Support inside the classroom will be best addressed by the designated person in schools and schools/ colleges themselves. Further review of how Virtual school teams are funded, in light of these additional responsibilities, is recommended by NAVSH.

It is imperative the uniqueness of the Virtual School Head role; to be strategic and to effectively promote and champion the cases of individual children in care/care leavers, including UASC, is not diluted.

NAVSH considers it is important for the Designated Person in school to be a qualified, senior teacher, who has access to training and who has enough seniority in a school to positively influence outcomes for children in care and relevant children. With the role of the Personal Adviser extended to those aged 25 who want support.  The Designated Person role should apply to Further Education Colleges.  It is also important to acknowledge the Pupil Premium Plus does not apply to anyone over the age of 16.  The bursary for children in care, however, does support this age group but performs a different function as it is there to support the young person’s basic needs for example transport, rather than additional support. In view of this we would recommend extending Pupil Premium Plus to the end of statutory education.

Alan Clifton,


NAVSH Response to the Green Paper 'Schools that work for everyone'

posted Jan 12, 2017, 12:25 PM by Jane Pickthall

This is the response of the National Association of Virtual School Heads (NAVSH) to the green paper ‘Schools that work for everyone’ published on 12 September 2016.

The paper deals with matters to do with independent schools, universities, selective schools and faith schools.  It is not simply about selective education. NAVSH has an interest in all of these areas in relation to a Virtual School Heads statutory role:  Promoting the educational achievement of children in care.   The main focus of this response however, relates to the proposal to increase the number of selective schools.

The government’s aspiration to enable more young people to achieve even better is clearly to be welcomed. However, it has long been evident that structural change is not the means to that end; what makes the difference is high quality teaching and learning, backed up by high parental expectations. NAVSH is passionate about improving outcomes for children in care and VSH provide the parental expectation that is so often missing.

In the paper there would appear to be a pre-supposition that selective education makes the greatest difference to those students who for reasons of parental income or other social disadvantage are struggling to improve their prospects.  

The Education Policy Institute has this year looked at the impact of academic selection in grammar schools on attainment and social mobility in England, using data from the school Performance Tables, the School Census and the Department for Education’s National Pupil Database.

Pupils who are eligible for free school meals are notably under-represented in grammar schools, with only 2.5 per cent of grammar school pupils entitled to these free meals, compared with 13.2 per cent in all state funded secondary schools.   We do not currently have the exact statistics for the numbers of children in our care nationally who attend a selective school, but we know from the evidence of VSH, in those areas that have selective schools, that the numbers are disproportionally small.

We are concerned that, even allowing for a ‘quota system’ children in care, with all the disadvantages and trauma they will have encountered, will not meet the admission criteria to attend a selective school except in rare, exceptional, circumstances.

This under-inclusion of poorer children in grammar schools is unsurprising. EPI research indicates that around 40 per cent of the gap in attainment between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils emerges before children start attending school, and by the time the ‘11 Plus’ entry exam (or equivalent) is taken, 60 per cent of the large disadvantaged attainment gap – equivalent to almost 10 months of learning by this stage – has emerged. Therefore, it is simply less likely that poorer children will attain highly in tests taken at age 11, compared with pupils from more affluent family backgrounds.  In 2014 48% of children in care achieved a level 4 in reading, writing and mathematics compared to 79 for ‘the rest’ whilst in 2015 52% of children in care achieved a level 4 in reading writing and mathematics compared to 80% for ‘the rest’  These figures relate to over two and a half thousand children.  Percentages are much reduced in 2016 due to the new curriculum and assessment measures.

A significant question then emerges: How will a coherent, high quality and viable non-selective system for the approx. 80% of young people, be maintained?  This 80% will include the vast majority of the children in our care?  Will some of these schools be less viable and struggle to recruit the best teachers?

There are also a number of aspects of the proposals which give concern in terms of admission to selective schools and the ability of the local authority, or Virtual School Head to be able to ensure that all children, including those in care have proportionate access to places. It is unclear how admission arrangements would enable admission into selective schools outside of the ‘normal’ admissions rounds –midyear for example.  Within the present system VSH cannot direct the admission of a child in care into an academy and delays can be unreasonable.  Are there plans to publish new admissions guidance?

Research from the Rees Centre, Universities of Oxford and Bristol on the ‘Educational Progress of Looked After Children in England’ highlighted the significance of both care and placement stability.  They also stated in their recommendations that ‘Local Authorities should be supported to identify and place pupils in higher performing schools.


NAVSH has reservations about the proposal in the green paper to increase the numbers of selective schools.  We are concerned about the potentially negative impact on non –selective schools and therefore on the quality of teaching and learning.  We remain unconvinced that the proposal will raise standards throughout England for children in care.

We are interested to find out more about any proposed quotas and how this might work for children in care.  

NAVSH would welcome the opportunity to participate in any further planned consultation on the proposal and the implication arising for children in care.

Alan Clifton, Chair

GCSE Results Day – A Virtual School Head’s Perspective

posted Aug 25, 2016, 1:10 AM by Jane Pickthall

    As results day arrives Virtual School Heads around the country will be anxiously awaiting news about how their students have done. With only 14% of looked after children nationally achieving 5 or more A*-C grades, including maths and English, last year, they are not likely to be the results that most headteachers would be hoping for. Each year, however, we are humbled and inspired by all the individual success stories of young people who have done the best they possibly can at the time of the exams, even if this was whilst living in their tenth placement, attending their eighth school, dealing with separation from birth families, recovering from years of abuse and neglect or coming to terms with a bereavement. Of course we want to see better outcomes but first there needs to be a much greater understanding of the circumstances surrounding children in care. This was finally acknowledged in the recently published Ofsted's Annual Social Care Report, 

     "These are children whose childhoods have not been like most other children’s... It tells us little to only compare this group of children with children whose lives have been happy and secure."

     The Rees Centre / Bristol University research, 'The Educational Outcomes of Children Looked After in England', looks more closely at the class of 2013. It shines a light on the context in which Virtual Schools operate, revealing a range of factors that could lead to even better outcomes. Stability, it emerged, is one of the most important factors required for success. Looked after children who had been in care for more then three years, who attended one school and lived in one placement achieved much closer in line with their peers with 50% gaining 5 A*-C grades, including maths and English. This data offers real hope but the proportion of children in care achieving this level of stability is currently too low. 

     What The Rees Centre report also highlighted was that almost 40% of the class of 2013 were not in a mainstream school by the time they sat their GCSEs. A proportion with Special Educational Needs were appropriately attending special schools (and virtual school heads have to include the 28% with a statement / EHCP in their data) but many were in Pupil Referral Units where the research discovered they were significantly disadvantaged, achieving the equivalent of 14 grades less than a student with the same profile attending a mainstream school. 

     With this knowledge we need to really focus our efforts on making mainstream schools work better for children in care so they achieve stability and have the best chance of succeeding. This means staff understanding the impact of trauma and neglect; schools adapting behaviour policies to support children with attachment difficulties; schools investing in support staff that are given time to build strong, supportive relationships and respond to situations flexibly; schools targeting pupil premium to fill gaps in knowledge; and school leaders working in partnership with Virtual School Heads. Then hopefully, some day soon, our results day will become a little bit brighter and looked after children and care leavers will achieve the outcomes they deserve. 

 Jane Pickthall, Vice Chair

The Ofsted Social Care Annual Report - Changing the narrative.

posted Jul 7, 2016, 1:29 PM by Jane Pickthall

NAVSH response to the OFSTED social care annual report 2016

NAVSH welcomes this report, which includes some important and hard-hitting messages. The report describes judgements made during inspections of local authorities carried out under the single inspection framework on social care services for children in need of help and protection, children looked after and care leavers. NAVSH supports the conclusion that all local authorities should be asked to invest in early help, as there is clear evidence of this being associated with better outcomes.

In relation to the observations and findings in the section ‘Experiences and progress of children looked after’, NAVSH wholeheartedly welcomes this report. There has been a definite shift in the narrative that demonstrates improved sensitivity to and awareness of the lives of children in care, for example:

“These are children whose childhoods have not been like most other children’s... It tells us little to only compare this group of children with children whose lives have been happy and secure.” (page 10)

“Care can be good for children”

This headline is helpful and is clearly influenced by the findings of the Rees Centre / University of Bristol research project published as‘ The Educational Progress of Children Looked After in England: Linking Care and Educational Data’. NAVSH welcomes a public acknowledgement that the simplistic narrative that care is bad for children and young people is simply incorrect. 

NAVSH regions have been working with regional Ofsted and HMI on the debate around agreeing appropriate wide-ranging care and education outcomes. This work is an example of ADCS President Dave Hill’s commitment to change the narrative around children in care. NAVSH is clear that this must not in any way dilute ambitions to improve attainment, or to be defensive around the ‘gap‘ with peers but it is a recognition that:

“While more could be done while children are looked after, new evidence from research this year makes it clear that it is not being looked after that is the cause of educational underperformance. Comparing children looked after with children in need, rather than with all children, shows that the former make better progress at school. This is particularly true of children who are looked after for longer and for those who entered care earlier. Children looked after are also less likely to be absent from school and are less likely to be permanently excluded. (Para 112)

Some of the children who do not reach good outcomes at first do so in the end, but in their own time. We should still be determined to see them do better in their lives than other children in similar positions have done in the past. (Page 8)

Where practice is strong

It is reassuring and powerful recognition of the growing influence and impact of Virtual School Heads that OFSTED have acknowledged:

“In a significant majority of the local authorities inspected under the single inspection this year, inspectors commented positively on the contribution of virtual school headteachers.” (Para 114)

NAVSH is working across the whole VSH community with the aim of ensuring that the many Virtual Schools that are working well can support and challenge their peers where there is yet more to do.

The six bullet points in paragraph 115 are particularly well-framed and could be a priority blueprint for any new Virtual School Head, and should be included in every Virtual School Head’s Annual Report. It is especially reassuring that there is a clear overlap with the seven NAVSH Research and Improvement Priorities for 2016-17.

  • Rates of progress and attainment –Yes
  • Work collaboratively with partners –Yes
  • Track closely educational progress –Yes
  • Use pupil premium imaginatively – Yes
  • Support training for carers and designated teachers Yes

NAVSH has not included PEPs as one of our priority targets but they are integral to our work, have been for a number of years and will continue to be so. 

It is pleasing to read about the improved proportion of children’s homes that have been judged good or outstanding.  

The report acknowledges that 75% of children in our care live in foster homes not inspected by OFSTED. It is, of course, within the VSH remit to ensure that education is part of foster carers’ training, and that there is an expectation by individual foster carers for children and young people in their care that they will attend school, and that foster carers should actively support children in their care to achieve the best educational outcomes..

NAVSH would want to highlight two key areas where a difference is being made but more can be done:

“We know placement stability is best achieved through effective care planning. This year, less than half of local authorities were found to be providing consistently good care planning.” (Para 87)

NAVSH believes that Virtual School Heads should always be involved when a new care placement is being considered.  Educational stability must be considered at the same time as stability of care placement.  Emergency short-notice care placement moves are relatively rare.


“Schools and Virtual School Heads should play a role in supporting the emotional well-being of children looked after.  We have observed a number of examples where pupil premium funding has been used creatively to support children’s emotional well- being and in doing so, promotes progress at school.” (Para 105)

As the majority of Virtual School Heads would shout from the rooftops, they certainly do play a strong part in the role of supporting the emotional wellbeing of children in their care. NAVSH and individual Virtual School Heads have repeatedly highlighted the impact of attachment and trauma on learning and the importance of schools being ‘attachment aware’. NAVSH was represented on the NICE attachment guidelines working group. This is a key priority for NAVSH and we will continue to work to influence national policy in this area, one such example being ongoing discussions with the DfE on the soon-to-be-published advice to schools and teachers on classroom and emotional behaviour management. Another example is the evidence provided by Tony Clifford to the Parliamentary Committee on the mental health of looked after children.


The report raises concerns about adolescents, the ‘ages of concern’, and notes:

“The focus is on behaviour, rather than trying to understand the causes of the behaviour and need for support.”

NAVSH strongly believes that all professionals working with children and young people should ‘’try to understand the causes’ that lead to behaviour problems, and then to provide appropriate support rather than sanctions. NAVSH believes that this is a far more effective approach in both the short and long term.

Inspection and the future

How might we change the narrative further by the time the fourth Annual Report is published?  In the first instance, NAVSH will respond to the invitation to help in the development of a common inspection framework for the inspection of different social care settings. The focus on the quality of relationships looks set to be part of the new framework and we very much welcome this. There will be far greater focus on the experiences of children and young people and their involvement in local strategies.

Children feel safe when the people who care for them are able to meet their needs fully and they have a good relationship with those around them.

This is why NAVSH and VSHs will strive to maintain the stability of school placements, reducing exclusions and limiting school moves, so as to enable positive relationships in schools, both with adults and peers, to develop and provide the support needed.

Alan Clifton

Chair, NAVSH

The Children and Social Work Bill - the NAVSH response

posted Jun 5, 2016, 1:34 PM by Jane Pickthall   [ updated Jun 5, 2016, 1:49 PM ]

The Queen’s Speech announced a new set of measures to promote and strengthen children’s social care.  If you want to know more detail, The Children and Social Work Bill can be found attached below.

In an earlier blog I commented on Virtual School Heads embracing the intention of central government to extend their role to include those adopted from care.  This commitment is confirmed in the Bill, introduced in the Lords, by Lord Nash, on the 19th May.  I was pleased to read that extending the designated teachers role along the same lines has also been included, recognising the joint working between VSHs and schools that already benefits children in care.

Jane Pickthall and I had a very helpful meeting with the Chief Executives of both PAC UK and Adoption UK, Peter Sandiford and Hugh Thornbury, about how we might work in partnership and potentially improve outcomes.  We will circulate a draft document for VSHs to consider around working practice – it will helpful to receive feedback via Regional Leads.

So what are the other key measures included in the Bill for those in care and care leavers?

In terms of care leavers it has always seemed an anomaly to me that a care leaver can have support from a Personal Adviser until age 25 if they are engaged in ETE but this is not so if they are NEET.  This has been addressed so all can be supported now, including those who are struggling most.  Acknowledging, of course, the resource implications for local authorities.

There can surely be little opposition to the proposal that all local authorities consult on and publish a local offer setting out support available to care leavers.  This measure will not be something new to most.

I was also surprised to learn that the duty of local authorities as a corporate parent is not defined in one place in statute.  There is the intention to make this duty clearer and celebrate good practice.  This might be much wider than promoting educational achievement and may include commitments around employment opportunities, housing needs or leisure opportunities. In my own local authority, North Yorkshire, this will involve agreements and commitments between district and county authorities. 

I’d like to conclude by asking you to share examples of excellent practice from your own local authorities: how do we go above and beyond as a corporate parent to improve outcomes. Once again if you provide your regional lead with examples we will share with the DFE and partners.


Alan Clifton, Chair

Foster Care Fortnight - Foster Carers Make a Difference!

posted May 22, 2016, 12:38 PM by Jane Pickthall

Foster carers make a difference! We know that, of course, and recognise the huge value of their tenacity and the warmth and safety they can build for young people. They also make a difference in education and it is possible that this is less recognised. It is really important that the expertise of foster carers is valued by schools; they will know what is or is not working for their child. Breaking down barriers so we can connect with the child's experience in the round is important for building the safety that enables learning. 

In a recent visit to a primary school this was observed happening in a highly effective way. The school facilitated contact for a large sibling group whilst creating a space for a group of carers to share their experiences and support each other to better support the children. The carers had built such a positive relationship with the school that teachers were working with the carers in the home on learning strategies that the carers could then continue to implement. 

This learning can be reciprocal. In Staffordshire, Sarah Rivers, Virtual School Head is training foster carers to deliver attachment support for looked after children in schools, so that they can share their expertise in what works and why. Likewise, Matthew Blood, Tri-Borough Virtual School Head, has been working with The Fostering Network on the London Fostering Achievement project. This involved recruiting foster carers to become Education Champions to work with other carers, schools and virtual schools. More information about the project can be found on their website, along with details of resources for foster carers and schools.

Foster carers make a difference when we recognise their blend of professional and parenting skills and how it can enable the network around the child to support learning in its most holistic sense.

Thanks to Tony Clifford, Sarah Rivers and Matthew Blood for this post.


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