Annual Conference 2023 Press Release

Building relationships and changing the system, NAVSH chair and virtual head for North Yorkshire Julie Bunn addresses the annual conference of the National Association of Virtual School Heads

Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza praises the work of virtual heads

Any questions? Delegates quiz the expert speakers


MILLIONS of pounds are being invested to help ‘build relationships and change the system’ ensuring the country’s most vulnerable young people can maximise their learning.

Around 400 delegates attending the annual conference of the National Association of Virtual School Heads (NAVSH) in Manchester heard that £24m was being provided by the Department for Education for 16-19 year olds in care.

Virtual Schools will also receive £16.6m over the next two years for younger children who are looked after or have a social worker.

Minister for Children Claire Coutinho told the conference: “Taken together, the significant amount of funding and proposed expansion of your role shows just how important the work you all do day-in day-out is – and the huge achievements you have made in supporting some of our most vulnerable children to succeed in their education.”

Ten million pounds will be distributed to all local authorities in the country next year and £14m the year after for 16-19 provision.

NAVSH chair Julie Bunn, of Guisborough, who handed over her position to her deputy Matthew Cooke, said: “This really is around building relationships and enabling system change, which is the theme of our conference. We are the jam, the connector which sticks these two beasts of care and education together. We make the impossible possible and it’s a tough job.

“We get key people to the table but we can’t fix everything, which is where system change comes in. We need to see education as protection and care plans looking at the educational trajectory of the child. We want to encourage our schools to change from challenging behaviour to building relationships.”

Virtual School Heads were established in 2014 to oversee positive educational progress for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children.

The role to promote the educational achievement of all children with a social worker was then given to Virtual School headteachers trebling the workload.

Funding was also extended to the Broadening Educational Pathways scheme, managed for DfE by the Royal National Children’s SpringBoard Foundation, which allows looked after children to attend independent schools.

RNCSF deputy director of programmes Leah Morgan said: “We are delighted that the Government will extend its funding to the scheme. Hundreds of independent and boarding schools and local authorities share our passion for how transformative an independent or boarding school place can be for children in, or on the edge of, care.”

Mrs Bunn added. “For these children this is life-changing.” 

The conference, at Old Trafford Cricket Ground, also heard, via a live link, from Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza who said the work of virtual heads was ‘immensely important”.

“I feel a personal responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of these children” she said. “I am tasked with bringing the voices of children to the heart of Government and I need your help to do that.

“I want to make sure that the rights of every child in the country are protected. I want to hear their voices to make the world a better place.”

She said families were everything, a fundamental pillar to children’s lives, and everything should be done to keep them together. But 80,000 children were in care and 20,000 were separated from their siblings so she wanted to see greater emphasis on them being kept together or at least having contact.

Dame Rachel said she had commissioned a nationwide audit to find out why children weren’t in school. “School is where they need to be,” she said. “They are a brilliantly ambitious generation but they can only benefit from education if they attend. They need support to help them thrive and I’d like to thank the virtual heads for helping them to pursue their dreams.”