Schools Development Officer, Becky White, responds to important new guidance for Virtual School Heads and Designated Teachers

School picThe extension of the roles of Virtual School Heads and Designated Teachers in England represents an important step forward in recognising the impact of adverse early life experiences for many adopted and permanently placed children, and the need for schools to receive appropriate guidance, training and support to meet their needs.

With the educational achievement of adopted children lagging significantly behind their peers, and permanent exclusion rates 20 times higher, Adoption UK is working with Virtual School Heads and Designated Teachers to ensure that the specific challenges facing some of our most vulnerable children are addressed so that adopted children are supported to thrive in school.

Virtual School Heads and Designated Teachers have been promoting the educational achievement of looked-after children in schools in England for some time. The new statutory guidance, released in February 2018, details how those roles will be extended to include adopted children, and those placed under a Special Guardianship Order or Care Arrangements Order.

 Virtual School Heads will oversee the education of looked-after and previously looked-after children in their local authority, from the term after their second birthday, throughout the compulsory years of schooling, provided their education is funded in part or in full by the state.

There is a certain amount of flexibility as to how they will carry out their duties but, as a minimum, they will respond to requests from parents, early years settings and schools for advice and information, including on school admissions, and signpost to other services. They will also give guidance to schools and early years settings on the effective use of Pupil Premium Plus, provide and source training for educators, parents, social work professionals and other relevant people, and promote good practice around meeting the needs of previously looked-after children.

The guidance makes clear that previously looked-after children are more likely to experience social, emotional and mental health issues, and requires Virtual School Heads to work with schools to make them “attachment aware”. There will be an additional £7million funding per year until 2020 to support Virtual Schools in expanding their role.

In schools, Designated Teachers will become the central contact point for parents, carers and guardians and work closely with them to ensure the best outcomes for their children. They will have lead responsibility for ensuring that all school staff understand the factors that can affect previously looked-after children’s learning, including “attachment awareness”, and contribute to whole school policies to ensure that previously looked-after children are not disadvantaged.

They will also have a role to play in ensuring that Pupil Premium Plus funds are applied for and used appropriately. The guidance is clear that Designated Teachers should encourage parental involvement in deciding how the funds can best be used to support each child.

Adoption UK CEO, Sue Armstrong Brown, will be speaking at the National Association of Virtual School Heads conference in March, and Adoption UK representatives are attending regional Virtual School Head meetings around the country. Our goal is to ensure that interpretation of the new guidance is rigorous enough to give every adopted child an equal chance in school.

The full statutory guidance for Virtual School Heads can be found online here: http://bit.ly/2GMPyFQ

You can freely download Adoption UK's factsheet on Virtual School Heads here: http://bit.ly/2DkQf7p 

The guidance for Designated Teachers is here: http://bit.ly/2EVHSot

You can freely download Adoption UK's factsheet on Designated Teachers here: http://bit.ly/2DoE0qs