Report of the Strategic Director, Children Adults and Families
The Board received the Virtual School Education report.
It was reported that, as of 30 November 2021, there were 445 children looked after in Gateshead between the ages of 0-18 years old. 80 children within this cohort receive education out of the Borough. 75 of these looked after children have an EHCP and 47 receive SEN support.
Pupil Premium Plus grant has increase to £2345 per child for children in care. The Virtual School retains £600 for additional service delivery to children in care and schools. The funding is distributed across schools based on two completed Personal Education Plans (PEPs) per year. It was noted that schools have to evidence the spend through PEPs and the service does challenge schools on its use of Pupil Premium Plus. It was confirmed that the number of returned PEPs from schools has increased following a change in process. There is now two windows for PEP submissions; October / November and April / May, this therefore focuses schools to ensure they return 6 monthly PEPs. The Virtual School quality assures the PEPs and picks up any actions, in particular around transitions. The April / May submission therefore gives the Virtual School opportunity to put support in place in advance of the transition being made.
It was reported that the rate for PEP return in Gateshead is 95% and 80% for out of borough education. It was acknowledged that this is the highest return for several years. The team is now focused on ensuring out of borough returns, which is gradually increasing.
As a result of Covid and new virtual ways of working the virtual school team has been able to attend more PEP Reviews. This has led to building better relationships with schools, particularly with those schools that are out of the borough.
In terms of educational attainment there were 37 looked after children in year 11 for 2020/21. As no exams were held due to the pandemic, the results were based on teacher assessment. There were 9 children with five passes at grade 4 and above, including maths and English, this equates to 24%. There were 12 children (32%) with five passes at grade 4 and above, not necessarily including Maths and English. There were 19 children (51%) achieving five passes at grade 1 and above and 31 children (84%) achieving one pass at grade 1 and above.
In relation to Key Stage 1 attainment there we 20 pupils in the cohort for 2020/21, attainment would previously have been measured through SATs results. For this year teacher assessment showed; 55% achieved the expected level in writing, 60% in reading, 50% in Maths and 50% achieving the expected level in all three areas.
It was noted that attainment under teacher assessment is much better than in exams which is evidence that looked after children need to be supported through other ways of learning.
It was reported that access to Higher Education for looked after children is much lower with the national average being 13%. In Gateshead this figure was 12.6% in 2019, 18% in 2020 and 21.2% in 2021, therefore significantly higher than the national average. Most of these young people graduated successfully. Research has shown that 25-30% of care leavers will undertake higher education in later life.
It was noted that there have been no permanent exclusions for looked after children since 2019. The Virtual School works hard to prevent exclusions and will challenge schools. There have been some cases where alternative provision and managed moves have had to be undertaken but a permanent exclusion would be a very last resort for a child in care.
The number of fixed term exclusions is higher than the Virtual School would like, therefore monitoring has been increased and all schools have been asked to report all fixed term exclusions of looked after children. This will help the team support that young person to stop the situation escalating further. During the academic year 2020/21 there were 20 looked after children who received fixed term exclusions, a total of 31 fixed term exclusions which equates to 83.5 days of missed education.
There is now a new resource which replaces the ‘letterbox programme’, called the Treasure Chest. This includes Maths and English resources predominantly for Key Stage 1 and 2 and is aimed at getting looked after children learning at home with their carers. The feedback has been very positive so far and a full evaluation will be carried out once the second pack has been delivered this month.
The team now has three very experienced Education Support Workers with the most recent team member qualified and skilled in; counselling, cognitive behaviour therapy, trauma and attachment, psychology and theraplay.
An Education Enrichment Programme has been developed by the Virtual School, this is led by an Outdoor Activity Leader and offers experiences beyond that of the classroom. This is a twice weekly programme for those pupils struggling to attend and engage with their schools. The programme is accredited and is becoming increasingly popular. The programme is aimed at building confidence and social skills so the young person can get back into school, it offers an holistic approach to learning.
Due to the pandemic the Pathways2Work Project has not been able to run, however it is expected that this will be developed through the year. The project is aimed at helping young people in years 10-13 to find work experience to develop confidence and increase life chances.
It was reported that for previously looked after and adopted children the Virtual School Head continues to be a source of advice and information. Work is ongoing to try and develop a network of adopters to offer training and information sharing.
The Education Psychologist continues to work with the Virtual School one day per week. It was noted that, due to a national shortage of EP’s this cannot be extended. The psychologist is involved directly in case work and statutory processes such as EHCP’s, delivers training and monitors transition.
It was reported that there is a DfE piloted project for all Virtual School Heads to strategically look at the education of children who have or have had a Social Worker. This therefore extends the cohort significantly and there is a need to work closely with schools to manage the needs of this large cohort. The aim of this is to make visible the disadvantages that children with a social worker can experience and to narrow the gap in attainment.
A pilot programme is currently being run at Kingsmeadow Secondary School, an extensive robust training programme in trauma informed practice using virtual reality technology has been rolled out. The programme has been very successful in getting all staff in the school to access the training and is beginning to change mindsets of staff. The aim is to roll this out to all schools. An evaluation of the programme will be sent to the DfE in March. It is hoped that this will increase attendance, reduce fixed term exclusions and reduce managed moves and use of alternative provisions to avoid permanent exclusions as well as changing the mindsets of those people supporting young people.
It was reported that throughout the pandemic a full service was maintained. It was noted that a lot of Foster Carers made the choice for children in their care to remain at home. In these cases £200 of Pupil Premium Plus funding was redirected to Foster Carers to help them support the education of their foster child. This was well received and weekly Virtual School contact was maintained to check in and offer individual support where it was safe to do so.
It was suggested that a School Improvement Plan be attached to the final report prior to its publication. It was also suggested that initiatives such as Social Workers in Schools, be included in the Board’s work programme going forward.
It was questioned how the use of the £200 paid to Foster Carers was evaluated. It was confirmed that a random sample of Foster Carers was taken and that a lot of the money was reimbursement of what they had already spent on educational resources. It was confirmed that generally the funding had been used very wisely.
More information was requested on the 20 young people receiving fixed term exclusions. It was confirmed that some of these young people have had more than one exclusion for low level behaviour. The Virtual School has worked closely with those schools to advise how they can better support the young person. It was acknowledged that it also relates to the level of tolerance of schools and the team continues to challenge schools over exclusions of looked after children.
It was questioned what there are less out of borough PEPs being returned. It was explained that this is because Local Authorities have different processes, some placements are in Scotland which do not have a requirement for PEPs so a report has to be accepted in that case. It was acknowledged however that although this return figure is improving it remains a challenge.
The point was made that the Regional Adoption Agency provides post adoption support so care needs to be taken that work is not being duplicated so more joint working may be required.
It was suggested that it would be useful for the Board to see trends over time in relation to attainment, achievement and exclusions; at least for the previous three years, in future reports.
The suggestion was made that School Admissions may be able to help in terms of developing an adopters network as they would hold that information upon registration of a child in school.
There was also a suggestion that consideration be given to the creation of a virtual school governing body.
RESOLVED - (i) That the Virtual School will continue to promote the
education of all children who have or have had a social worker and offer a high standard of educational support to all children in care.
(ii) That the Virtual School will continue to maintain the
high percentage of PEP reviews, and the timely return of all PEPs both in and out of borough and to continue to promote the importance of full attendance of all professionals at PEP meetings.
(iii) That the Virtual Schools will continue to provide
appropriate intervention and provision for those Children in Care who have gaps in their education and also support those at risk of permanent exclusion to maintain their school place and to challenge where schools have not provided appropriate provision.
(iv) That the Virtual School will ensure that Pupil Premium
Plus and the additional Pupil Premium Plus is allocated and used appropriately by schools and to challenge school to be more accountable for their use of the funding.
(v) That the Virtual School change the culture in schools,
colleges and other services around responding to children with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) and to make them the best they can be in managing and supporting this vulnerable group of children through the delivery of high quality training.
(vi) That an improvement plan be developed to sit
alongside the Virtual School report.
(vii) That publication of the report be delayed until further work is carried out and gaps in it updated.