Your education questions answered - pt 1

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The Fostering Network works with foster carers and fostering service staff to try to eradicate educational inequality amongst care experienced children compared to their peers. A Guide to the Education of Looked After Children aims to demystify the complexities of the education system, and give foster carers the confidence to engage with schools and wider services to support the young people in their care to achieve their full potential.

In February 2016 we asked foster carers directly about their education-related queries and concerns and put these questions to three of our fostering and education experts, Bernadette Alexander and Doug Lawson, co-authors of the education guide and Lisa Belletty, programme manager of The Fostering Network’s Inspiring Voices programme.

Read their advice below about starting school, designated teachers, and virtual school heads.

How do I let a school know that a child is fostered and what information should I give them?

The child’s social worker, in consultation with the virtual school head, should make sure that the school knows that a pupil is a looked after child, but it is important that you make contact with the designated teacher (see next question for more information on the role of the designated teacher) to establish a relationship and to make sure that the school has the information they need. The school will need contact details for yourself and the child’s social worker, and the child’s Personal Education Plan. The child’s social worker will make arrangements for the PEP to be produced or reviewed, and both you and the designated teacher should contribute to this.

See section 2, The Team Around the Child, and section 3, The Role of the Designated Teacher, in A Guide to the Education of Looked After Children for more information.

The child I care for is struggling in school and some of the teachers don’t seem to understand their needs, who can I speak to to get more help?

Every school has a designated teacher for looked after children. Their role is to champion the needs of all looked after children within the school, and to monitor their individual achievement and make sure that strategies are in place to meet their needs. If you haven’t already established a relationship with the designated teacher you should do so. Share your concerns and discuss how best to tackle these. The designated teacher may be able to help other teachers to better understand the child’s needs, and perhaps also to allay some of your worries.

You should also discuss your concerns with the virtual school head and make sure that they are addressed at the next review of the Personal Education Plan (PEP) which you can ask to be brought forward if necessary. The child’s social worker and your supervising social worker will also be able to support you to make sure that the child’s needs are properly understood.

See section 3, The Role of the Designated Teacher, and section 8, The Personal Education Plan, in A Guide to the Education of Looked After Children for more information.

I’ve never heard of a virtual school head. What do they do?

Each local authority is required by law to employ a virtual school head. They are specifically tasked with tracking, monitoring and supporting the educational attainment and progress of all the looked after children by the local authority which employs them, wherever they are living. They ensure that each child from nursery to age 18 has an up-to-date Personal Education Plan (PEP) which records the child’s wishes and views, how they are achieving currently and what they and the team around the child need to do in order for the child to reach their target attainment. The PEP will include set targets for improvement and a SMART action plan so that everyone is aware of what they need to do for the child to progress. Virtual school heads may also commission extra support for the child.

In carrying out their role, virtual school heads work collaboratively, liaising with designated teachers, social workers, foster carers and key workers, independent reviewing officers, psychologists and any others involved in promoting the welfare of the child. They ensure that the team around the child are aware of how best to support the child’s education, including admission to school and transition from one key stage to the next and ensure that there is adequate training provided for these professionals.

See section 4, The role of the Virtual School Head, in A Guide to the Education of Looked After Children for more information.

Read part 2 of the education questions blog series.

​​You can find more information, advice and guidance about the issues surrounding the education of looked after children in our new education guide. This essential guide is £12.50 for members of The Fostering Network and £25 for non-members. Order your copies today by visiting fosteringresources.co.uk/education or calling 0844 335 1892.​