Headlines: October 15th, 2012

The gap between the educational achievement of children in care and their peers continues to widen. An Ofsted report says that virtual schools can help to reduce the gap.

Virtual schools are established by many local authorities and work with looked after children across their catchment as if they were in one school, liaising with the schools they attend, tracking the progress they make and supporting them to achieve as well as possible.

In the local authorities visited, virtual schools have raised the profile of educational attainment for children in care, promoted much better communication between professionals, increased the involvement of carers in children’s education, and helped to improve attendance and reduce exclusions.

The impact of virtual schools was mostly positive, but there was little evidence that they were yet able to reduce the attainment gap between looked after children and their peers. Nevertheless they were often very effective in influencing schools to take more account of the needs and circumstances of looked after children, supporting designated teachers, supporting and training foster carers and residential care staff, and in working with social workers who often felt a lack of confidence and expertise in relation to children’s education – to quote one, “I am hopeless with school stuff”.

The report makes a number of recommendations to local authorities to assist them in ensuring that a virtual school has maximum impact on improving educational outcomes for children in care. It also recommends that government should consider whether there should be a statutory duty upon authorities to establish and maintain robust virtual school arrangements.