Education Leaders: working in partnership with the Virtual School (part 2)

Andy Wright, Head of Partnerships, West Midland CiC Foundation and ASCL Council representative for Virtual Schools
Matthew Cooke is Chair of NAVSH and Virtual Head Teacher for Suffolk.

In Part 1 of this blog, Andy and Matthew highlighted how VSHTs work in partnership with LAs on a national and regional basis and how the role has developed.  
And, also as mentioned in Part 1, the Children in Need review (DfE, 2019) provided the VSHT with the strategic leadership role to champion the educational attendance, attainment, and progress of children with a social worker. 

This means that the VSHT will: 
  • make visible the disadvantages that children with a social worker can experience, enhance partnerships between education settings and local authorities, including with children’s social care, to help all agencies hold high aspirations for these children
  • promote practice that supports children’s engagement in education, recognising that attending an education setting can be an important factor in helping to keep children safe from harm
  • level up children’s outcomes and narrow the attainment gap so every child has the opportunity to reach their potential. This will include helping to ensure that children with a social worker benefit from support to recover educationally from the impact of the pandemic
The VSHT role for children with a social worker is a strategic leadership responsibility and they are not expected to: 
  • work directly with individual children and their families - including tracking and monitoring of individual educational progress, providing academic or other interventions. 
  • respond to requests from parents or carers to offer advice, intervention, and support in relation to individual children with a social worker. 
  • take responsibility for children with SEND who do not require or need a social worker, as defined above.
In this way, the extended role does not duplicate or replace existing statutory roles.  

A strong bridge across the system
The fact that the VS in some LAs sits within social care whilst in others within education illustrates how the VSHT is a strong bridge across the Children’s Services ‘system’. Furthermore, the unique position of the VSHT will mean that it is highly likely there are effective links with health partners as well as close working partnerships with the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), admissions, exclusions, care leavers, school improvement and other support services across each LA. This is further enhanced by a direct link with the Children’s Commissioner’s Office and the DfE at a national level. The engagement of the VSHT with all school and college leaders, regardless of status, will help to maximise the connectivity of the range of services available for some of our most vulnerable learners.

The focus on CiC and PLAC has introduced further resources with VSHTs responsible for managing pupil premium plus (PP+) funding for the children they look after and for allocating it to schools and alternative provision (AP) settings. An individual VSHT is responsible for the effective allocation of this PP+. This is provided for all children of a statutory age, in care to that authority and is not a personal budget but is used to improve their outcomes. There will be a PP+ Policy for each Virtual School. The VSHTs are also responsible for managing the early years (EY) PP+ supporting children in EY providers that educate CiC who are taking up the free early education entitlement for three or four year-olds. More recently, the PP+ grant has been introduced for post-16 CiC.

A school will receive the PP+ grant for each individual PLAC that has been identified on the last census return for their school. There is no PP+ for children with social workers.

Overcoming barriers
The unprecedented challenges the education system is increasingly identifying barriers to learning that are adversely affecting our CYP. The effectiveness of interventions can vary across schools, areas, individual CYP and over time. In order to determine the most appropriate and effective approaches for our most ‘challenged’ and vulnerable CYP, well-informed and carefully planned methods that support both the education workforce and the individuals. The successes of the work across VS demonstrates that they are ideally placed to offer this evidence-based and quality advice and guidance to schools and colleges to help overcome these potential barriers. A major strength of the VS network is how they can reflect the local context and develop support systems to meet need local need within a regional and national context. It is this partnership work at a local level that provides a good source of evidence for a school or college Ofsted inspection.

The partnership between NAVSH, the Attachment Research Community and The REES Centre for the national Call To Action campaign to support all schools to become Trauma – Informed and Attachment Aware by introducing, developing and embedding relationship-based approaches demonstrates the national commitment of all VS to this. This evidence-based approach in focusing on learning needs, emotional wellbeing and mental health offers a lot to the concerns around CYP engagement with learning raised through the decline in attendance, increase in suspensions and exclusions and strategy to support the workforce.

There is no doubt that it is crucial that there is a connected offer for our most vulnerable CYP rather than siloed responses to the challenges of attendance, disengagement, CYP Not In Employment, Education or Training (NEET), exclusion or suspension. A proactive and connected approach across education, social care, health and criminal justice heightens the potential of the VS being a ‘connective agent’ for school, colleges and children’s services. 

If you have any queries about VS and VSHT, then please see these FAQs produced jointly with the NAVSH, which outline the work of virtual schools. 

Through ASCL Council and as your representative for Virtual Schools, I am keen to hear your views.  If you would like any further information, please get in touch at 

Andy Wright is Head of Partnerships, West Midland CiC Foundation and ASCL Council representative for Virtual Schools 

Matthew Cooke is Chair of NAVSH and Virtual Head Teacher for Suffolk.
Posted: 04/01/2024 08:43:28