At our recent conference I asked Virtual School Heads to embrace the suggestion in the White Paper ‘Excellence Everywhere’ of extending the role of VSH and designated teachers, for children in care to include support for children who have left care under an adoption order.
A key element of this proposal, as highlighted by Edward Timpson in his address at our York conference, is that the VSH will not be the adopted child’s corporate parent. It is absolutely correct that if an adoptive parent prefers not to share a child’s former ‘status’ with schools or other professionals, they can make that decision. Acknowledging, of course, that this would not allow access to the targeted pupil premium funding for those children adopted from care.
Sonia Jackson, Institute of Education, recently presented findings from her updated research into the role of the VSH. One finding was that the VSH role was a strategic one and not one that was immersed with case work interventions. This conclusion brought a smile to many of the VSHs listening to her research. I agree the VSH role has to be strategic but one of the facets of the role that head teachers and other professionals expect, and often demand, is advice and support at a case work level. It is part of the uniqueness of the VSH role and one of the ways we make a difference.
So what might providing additional information and advice for children adopted from care look like?
VSHs should certainly become, if they are not already, a part of their local authority adoption strategic group. Access to training for adoptive parents’, not solely on attachment and trauma, but of a wider scope should be encouraged. Advice around school admissions and strategies to help avoid exclusion are important. An overview around how the pupil premium for those adopted from care might be utilised is significant, whether or not the VSH controls that budget.
Unlike the emphasis provided by the corporate parent distinction, the VSH will provide advice to assist those adopted from care attending schools in their local authority, irrespective of which local authority initiated the care order.
That said, the number of those adopted from care living in one local authority region is often similar to those in the care of a local authority. For some of the larger local authorities, there may be capacity challenges around fulfilling adoptive parental expectations and the time that can be made available to support their child. This challenge is real but hopefully one that can be quickly resolved.
So how might we judge the impact of VSHs to support those adopted from care?
On an individual level, we should have examples of children making accelerated progress, both academically and emotionally. Any progress on a cohort basis is less appropriate, as VSHs do not have a legal right to monitor and intervene with each child.
NAVSH will liaise with members and colleagues at the DFE over how this consideration to extend the role of VSHs can be successfully incorporated into new legislation.
Alan Clifton | NAVSH Chair