Your education questions answered - pt 2

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Today we're discussing applying to school, who makes the decision, admission priority, and transition to secondary school.

Written for social workers, foster carers, residential care workers and independent reviewing officers, A Guide to the Education of Looked After Children aims to demystify the complexities of the education system and explore how the legal requirements should influence practice. We put your education 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.​

The child we’re caring for will be starting school next year, but we’re not sure if they’ll still be in placement - should I still be applying for a place at a local school?

You should discuss school applications with the child’s social worker, and they or you should consult the authority’s virtual school head. It is important to make sure that every looked after child receives the best possible education suited to their individual needs and ensure that they don’t end up without a school place for a period.

It will usually be best to make a school application on the assumption that they will still be in placement by the time they start school or change schools. If things change, an application can be made to a different school if necessary. Looked after children have priority admission, even when a school is full, so they should not miss out.

See section 7, Admission to school, in A Guide to the Education of Looked After Children for more information.

Do birth parents have a say in where a child goes to school?

The placement plan should make clear who has the authority to make decisions about which school a looked after child should attend.  

If the child’s permanence plan is for them to return home then their parents should be involved in deciding which school they should attend, because ultimately they will be living together. Even if the plan is for a child to remain in a long term placement, their parents retain parental responsibility and should be consulted about choice of school. However, if there is a care order the local authority decides whether it is in the best interests of the child to consult his or her parents.

School choices should be made in consultation with the virtual school head. Parents and local authorities can delegate decision making to foster carers, but because of their long-term impact decisions about school admission are likely to be made jointly by social workers, foster carers and parents.

See section 7, Admission to school, in A Guide to the Education of Looked After Children for more information.

Do fostered children have priority admission for the local school?

Looked after children have priority for the majority of schools and must be given admission even if the school is full. 

However, there are some exceptions. If the school is of a particular religious denomination, priority may be given to looked after children of that particular faith, followed by other children of that faith.  Other looked after children would thus come third on the school’s admission criteria.  If the school was full, it would be unlikely that they would be admitted.

Some grammar schools select by tests.  Where this is the case, the looked after child would be required to take the test and reach the required standard in it to be given admittance.  They would then have priority.

It is important to choose the right school for the young person in your care based on their needs, to enable them to thrive and fulfill their potential.

See section 7, Admission to School, in A Guide to the Education of Looked After Children for more information.

One of the children I look after is going to move schools – how can we expect their current school to help, will they provide information to the new school?

When a child is moving school, their current school is always expected to provide information to the new school, whether they are looked after or not.  Usually, the child’s file will be transferred electronically from the current school to the new one.  All past Personal Education Plan Reviews will be included in the file.

When a child is looked after, it is the responsibility of the designated teachers in both schools to liaise so that all information about the child, especially that which may not be on their file, is transferred.  For example, if the child has been attending one school for a number of years, the school is likely to have developed specific strategies for dealing with aspects of the child’s social, emotional and behavioural development.   It is vital that the designated teacher of the current school passes these on to the new school so that time is not wasted getting to know the child’s strengths and weaknesses before such strategies are put in place. 

When a looked after child is making the transition from primary to secondary school, it is good practice for the designated teacher of the secondary school to attend the summer term year 6 Personal Education Plan meeting in order to meet the child and their foster carer and to discuss the needs of the child and the support they will need with transition.  For the looked after children who are likely to find this enormous change very difficult, it is good practice for the secondary designated teacher to  invite the child to visit the school, get to know its geography and meet some of the child’s new teachers in addition to the usual new intake day for all incoming pupils.  Where secondary schools run summer camps for its new pupils, looked after children should be given priority.

See section 7, Admission to School, in A Guide to the Education of Looked After Children for more information.

Read part 3 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 or calling 0844 335 1892.​