What is the role of the virtual school?





The Children and Families Act (2014) placed a statutory responsibility on local authorities in the UK to establish a virtual school headteacher with the role of championing the education of all children looked-after within that authority. The current research was designed to illuminate how virtual schools are currently supporting educational outcomes for children looked-after, not only through educational interventions, but also through supporting broader psychological factors that might impact on attainment such as attachment, relationships and mental health. Virtual school headteachers from 29 local authorities completed an online survey about the services they provided to three target groups—children looked-after, foster carers and schools—with a particular focus on the transition years from primary to secondary school, which have been identified as being a difficult time for children looked-after. Using inductive thematic analysis, four overarching themes to service provision were identified: enhanced learning opportunities, specific transition support, well-being and relationships, and raising awareness. Direct work, interprofessional working and the development of supportive environments, particularly guided by attachment theory, were identified as important areas of practice. Practice is discussed in relation to resilience and ecological systems theory and suggestions for future research are identified.


Reference:  Drew, H., Banerjee, R. (2019). Supporting the education and well-being of children who are looked-after: what is the role of the virtual school?. Eur J Psychol Educ 34, 101–121. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10212-018-0374-0




The authors conclude that 'Virtual schools [in England] are working proactively at multiple levels around the child to address the factors affecting the educational outcomes of children looked-after. Virtual schools provide direct support, while also supporting resilient outcomes through close inter-professional working relationships and the development of supportive environments. Much of their work goes beyond a narrow focus on raising attainment, to support many of the underlying psychological issues such as attachment, social and emotional understanding, relationships and well-being. Further research into how they support well-being and education is needed, alongside rigorous research into what interventions work best to guide VSHs as they make decisions about how best to support the children in their care.'

We like this mainly because it attempts to provide some theoretical context to the data and narrative; the golden thread for us in this is 'resilience' development through the connections that are relationships and indeed competencies that are educational outcomes. (for more on this see Handbook of Resilience in Children) It is also a good description of the aims of Virtual Schools in England at the time of publication.




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