Sent on behalf of The National Association of Virtual School Heads
This response is being made by the National Association of Virtual School Heads (NAVSH) on behalf of the 152 Virtual School Heads in England.
NAVSH is the national organisation representing all Virtual School Heads in England and exists to promote improved educational outcomes for all children in care in line with the legislation and statutory guidance. NAVSH promotes research into ‘what works’ and disseminates effective practice, as well as providing a national voice for this new group of statutory post-holders.
This response does not attempt to cover the whole consultation but rather to provide a general analysis from the perspective of children in care and Virtual Schools. There is a specific response to Question 17 (see below).
We welcome the fact that the government has accepted the moral and economic case for working to improve the educational outcomes of children in care. The moral case is unarguable, as we are the corporate parents for children in care and we owe it to them to help them achieve all they can despite whatever trauma brought them into care in the first place. The economic case is equally powerful; nationally, educational outcomes for children in care have not been nearly good enough, and we, as Virtual School Heads, are working with schools and others in our areas to improve outcomes, so that children in care can go on to further and higher education, and into sustained and fulfilling employment, becoming economically independent adults.
The White Paper is helpful in making explicit the wide variation in funding arrangements for children in care. Its proposal, that because of this variation the anomaly is removed and instead, funding is provided entirely though an increased Pupil Premium Plus grant, is creative but entails the risk that, where this grant does not cover the loss of other funding e.g. the Dedicated Schools or Education Support grants, there will be a significant cut to the core service Virtual Schools provide at the very point that their role and remit is developing. In considering the risk of reductions we need to note that a consequence of early trauma, children in care are over-represented in the high-needs group, and are therefore additionally funded through the High Needs Block.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that Virtual Schools, vital as they are to children in care, are relatively small in the context of the whole education budget, and decisions for schools as a whole might ignore this special group.
The complexity of the funding streams, alongside the variations of local funding practice, leads to the strong possibility of unintended consequences for some or many virtual schools and their children in care were any of these funding streams to be amended without consideration of interactions. We would value further focus on children in care in Phase Two of the consultation to gain a better understanding of the scale of the potential impact these proposals could have on Virtual Schools across the country.
1. We are asking that any decisions about both budgets and distribution formulae are taken in the light of the specific impact on Virtual Schools. We offer our support in working through any details of proposals.
2. We are proposing that, so far as possible, Virtual Schools are recognised as a specific local authority activity, with a move towards a simplification of funding streams.
One approach would be for the bulk of Virtual School activity to be funded through Pupil Premium Plus. This would require an increase in the Pupil Premium Plus Grant, alongside an updating of the conditions of the grant to make explicit that funding could be used to support Virtual School infrastructure, alongside the devolution of funds directly to schools. Given the need for greater flexibility, we think Virtual Schools Heads should be given the option to carry forward surplus Pupil Premium Plus Grant in order to retain staff and respond to fluctuations in numbers and need in the longer term.
An alternative approach would be for the Department, though appropriate guidance, to place an expectation on local authorities to utilise High-Needs Block funding to provide targeted support for children in care including support for virtual school infrastructure but we are aware that many pressures already exist on this block and there will be less flexibility in the proposed model
We should emphasise that we are not seeking extra funding, (acknowledging the Pupil Premium Plus Grant oversight of those adopted from care is currently with schools) We recognise that there would be commensurate reductions in the ESG and DSG to compensate for any increase in the Pupil Premium Plus Grant.
We should also emphasise that ‘Virtual School infrastructure’ is concerned entirely with the educational underpinnings necessary to support schools to achieve the very best for all children in care. For example, many Virtual Schools use Pupil Premium Plus to fund dedicated specialist staff, including educational psychologists, education welfare officers, speech and language therapists, wellbeing workers, and personal careers advisers.
We believe it vital that Virtual School Heads have the flexibility to be creative with the use of Pupil Premium Plus, in order to ensure that limited resources are targeted to have maximum impact. This is particularly important for those awaiting a school place for any reason.
With respect to Question 17 of the consultation:
3. We strongly agree that funding should be targeted through the Pupil Premium Plus grant to support children in care and those who have left care through adoption or special guardianship, as opposed to a factor for looked-after children in the national funding formula. We propose raising Pupil Premium Plus to 18 in line with the increase in the participation age.
Of course, every child, whether in care or not, should attract both base formula funding for education, and any funding associated with their specific additional needs.
We believe that it would be helpful for the Department, through appropriate guidance, to emphasise that schools (mainstream and otherwise) are expected and required to use their core funding to support children in care, and that through careful education planning the Pupil Premium Plus is targeted effectively for individual children with a clear focus on improving outcomes’, in partnership with the Virtual School Head.
4. We believe that the Department should further clarify roles and responsibilities relating to children in care for mainstream schools, special schools, alternative provision and Virtual Schools and particularly in relation to timely admissions to academies and an extension of the Virtual School Head’s power to direct to all schools.
The issues on which further clarification would be helpful include the use of funding, the subject of this response, but also such matters such as admissions, both at the normal age of entry and in-year, and exclusions.
5. Children in care and those adopted or in special guardianship, form a very small proportion of the total cohort, albeit with very specific and individual needs. NAVSH, representing Virtual School Heads as the statutory post-holders, would welcome discussions about detailed proposals on school or local authority funding, or on Pupil Premium Plus, or on distributional formulae, with respect to the impact on outcomes for children in care.