Annual Conference 2023 Press Release - Young People Takeover

Young people tell delegates of their care experience at the annual conference of the National Association of Virtual School Heads


VIRTUAL headteachers were given an honest assessment of professionals’ efforts as a conference stage was handed over to young people in care – who told them firmly ‘we are not the bad kids’.

Mostly aged between 17 and 25 and from Gorse Hill Studios, an ambitious youth arts charity, in Streford, Greater Manchester, they addressed around 400 delegates attending the annual conference of the National Association of Virtual School Heads (NAVSH).

“I felt let down in primary school because I had ADHD but was never offered the test,” said Courtney. “In year 6 I was hearing voices and must have had psychosis but that was ignored and I was just seen as the naughty kid, which led to a downward spiral of school life.

“My mum was a drug addict and we had gang members in our house all the time but no-one considered the sort of things I might be seeing and I was sent to Pupil Referral Unit, where I was often restrained, which just made me feel more frustrated.

“I was sent to one school that was like a prison and my mum went to court to get me out. In Year 10 I was finally statemented and was put in a behaviour class with a really good teacher but she had no support.

“I went to college to study Level 3 health and social care but it was too big for me so I transferred to a smaller one. But they put me back to Level 1 without explaining why and did nothing about my dyslexia. So I can’t go to university at the moment, will have to go back to college and I can’t become a social worker yet.”

Now a peer mentor and role model for younger children Chloe urged the virtual heads to “listen to young people and give them all the support you can give”.

“Be mindful of the words you are using as phrases like ‘don’t get in with that crowd’ are so annoying. Would you say that about your child?”

Jacob, another peer mentor, agreed saying: “I think it is time to start listening to young people.”

“I was acting the way I was because I had autism,” he recalled. “It wasn’t that I was a bad kid but they still sent me to a school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties.”

Chloe told delegates that the constant ‘put-downs’ impacted on their self-esteem. “The best thing school did for me was kick me out,” she said. “Because it was only when I went into alternative provision that they started to understand more about me.

“In school I didn’t understand and I was always getting into trouble for things that weren’t to do with my education like uniform or wearing trainers. When I tried to defend myself teachers weren’t interested in hearing it.

“I was there to learn so these things didn’t seem relevant. It felt like I was being picked on. It would have been nice if they had asked me why I was behaving that way and why I was angry. But instead they would retaliate and that annoyed me further.

“The virtual heads were great because they stepped in and fought my corner which I really appreciated.

“At college the lecturers were often rude. I don’t have a problem saying how I feel but they didn’t like it. It would have been nice to have been understood, for the teachers to take it in and give me a break. They also definitely need to have trauma training.”

Chloe is now hoping to go to university so she can work with looked after children. “As much as I have had bad experiences I have also had good ones and I would love to give something back,” she said.

Josh, who read a poignant poem to the delegates, said: “Having the ability to listen is the biggest thing. We hear their thoughts but don’t get the opportunity to come to them to say we are struggling. So just take a minute, even if it is just one out of 24 hours, to listen.”

Liv, who performed a powerful rap for the audience, said it was important to find out what interested young people. “Take an interest in our interests,” she urged. “I love music and was helped to go into the studios, where I am now working and participating in industry projects. Find the things young people are good at – that really works.” 

Trafford virtual head Lynsey Burridge described the young people as the real experts. She added: “If we don’t ask our young people what they want then there may be nobody asking them. What clearer message is there for advocating for our young people?”