Looked After and Learning: An Evaluation of the Virtual School Head Pilot




This report examines the role of the Virtual School Head for Looked After Children (VSH) in the 11 [English] pilot authorities funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF). The VSH acts as a local authority co-ordinator and champion to bring about improvements in the education of looked after children (‘children in care’). Looked after children attend a range of local schools but the role of the VSH is to improve educational standards as if they were attending a single school.

The 11 VSH pilots ran for two years from 2007-09, with each receiving on average just over £70,000 per annum for participation, depending on the numbers of children looked after. Four of the 11 also piloted private tutoring under a scheme funded by the HSBC Education Trust. The research occupied a nine-month period from October 2008 to June 2009 and fieldwork was planned for the spring term.

Looked after children have long been recognised to be at a disadvantage in terms of their educational experiences and outcomes (Jackson and Sachdev 2001). The government has introduced a range of measures in attempts to raise educational attainment, enhancing the prospects for future employment as well as personal and family fulfilment (DfES 2007). However, the reasons for the lower attainment of looked after children are complex, including family background, pre-care experiences, instability and shortcomings in the care environment, low expectations and poor communication between social workers, carers and schools ( Harker et al. 2004; Comfort 2007). Key indicators nationally show signs of improvement but progress has been slow and uneven. The evaluation of the virtual school head pilots needs to be seen against this background.


Reference: Berridge, D., Henry, LW., Jackson, S., & Turney, DJ. (2009). Looked After and Learning: An Evaluation of the Virtual School Head for Looked after Children Local Authority Pilots. DSC RR144 London: Department for Children, Schools and Families


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The evaluation was based on analysis of a variety of sources of information, which were made available by the local authorities, professionals, carers and children in the pilot areas. Researchers used the substantial volume of data to consider the contribution of the new VSH role and the processes involved in its initiation.




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