news & Things

Schools Pushing Back Against Virtual Heads Over Vulnerable Children

15th Nov 2021

Experts warn councils are failing their duty of In Loco Parentis.

Virtual School Heads are failing in their duty as they lack the power to get children in care the education they need as schools have been ‘pushing back’, MP’s have been warned.

Patrick Ward, chair of the National Association of Virtual School Heads, told the education committee last week that local councils were “failing as a corporate parent” because they far too often weren’t using their statutory powers to secure more school places for vulnerable and at-risk children.

What Are Virtual School Heads?

Virtual School Heads (VSH’s) have a Central Government mandated duty to promote and empower the educational achievement of children in care within the Local Authority (LA) they’re employed by.

They’re also responsible for managing their pupil premium funding and for its allocation to schools and alternative provision (AP) settings.

VSH’s also manage the early years pupil premium (EYPP) and allocating it out to early years providers that take care of ‘looked-after-children (children in the care of the LA) who are entitled to free early education.

 

Legally, schools should be prioritising looked-after-children for their admissions with some councils resorting to ‘forcing’ schools to take these admissions. However, whilst a council can force this issue, not all councils have delegated that power to their VSH’s.

 

A survey conducted in March of this year showed that councils had been forced to initiate the process directly, with around 30% being forced to do so once or more very year.

When you try and place a young person in a mainstream school, a vulnerable young person, you get a lot of pushback. Schools essentially do not want to take these young people because they believe there will be a negative impact then on their outcomes. – Patrick Ward – Chair, National Association of Virtual School Heads

Ward also went on to warn the Government that there wasn’t enough data being collected on looked-after-children missing out on education, which fed back into a lack of accountability for both local councils and Virtual School Heads.

No one holds a director of children’s services or a local authority to account, or a virtual school for that matter, over how many of their children are missing in education or in unregulated provision. The department doesn’t know. The stats aren’t held anywhere. – Calvin Kipling, Virtual School Head, Darlington

A Department for Education spokesperson said they were “taking steps to build on the success” of virtual heads and “further raise educational standards” which included a new £3 million pilot for better support in post-16 education.

They added statutory guidance is “clear” on virtual heads duties, with councils “held to account” through Ofsted.

 

However, Paul Whiteman leader of the National Association of Head Teachers pushed back to say:

Sufficient support needs to be available to support each child’s needs. If children are placed in schools that can’t meet their needs effectively and support them fully to be able to learn, then that is not a good place for the child. – Paul Whiteman –NAHT

 

 

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