Virtual schools fail to improve education of children in care

10 Oct 12
Council ‘virtual schools’ have had little success in closing the education gap between children in care and other pupils, Ofsted has concluded.

By Vivienne Russell | 11 October 2012

Council ‘virtual schools’ have had little success in closing the education gap between children in care and other pupils, Ofsted has concluded.

The schools were set up to significantly improve outcomes for looked-after children, bringing together professionals and practitioners from different disciplines to co-ordinate services across a single catchment area. They work with the children as if they attended one school, liaising with the actual schools they attend and tracking the children’s progress.

In a study published today, the education watchdog reviewed the virtual schools in operation at nine local authorities. They were found to have promoted better communication between professionals, increased the involvement of carers in children’s education and helped to improve school attendance and reduce exclusions.

But Ofsted uncovered little evidence that they were helping to close the education attainment gap. Improving the percentage of pupils achieving five or more good GCSE passes, including English and maths, remained a challenge for most authorities.

Budget constraints also contributed to a significant reduction in the capacity of virtual schools in some local authorities. Although most of the councils visited by Ofsted were able to protect existing resources, almost all expressed concerns about the future. 

John Goldup, deputy chief inspector at Ofsted, said the life chances of looked-after children were blighted by poor educational outcomes.

‘While some planning and target setting is very good, expectations are too often too low, particularly for children who have the capacity for high attainment,’ he said.

‘The role of councillors is crucial. Local authorities are parents to these children. Virtual schools are at their most effective where corporate parenting is strong and challenges and supports the virtual school effectively.’

Responding to the report, David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: ‘As champions for local children, councils will continue to work hard with schools, teachers and care professionals to narrow the gap between the achievements of children in care and their peers so they can reach their true potential as adults.’

But he warned that budget cuts would make it ‘increasingly difficult’ for councils to provide non-statutory services, such as virtual schools, for looked-after children.


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