There are 152 local authorities in England, and each and every one has a legal duty to appoint a Virtual School Head (VSH) to make sure that the duty to promote the educational achievement of its looked-after and previously looked after children is properly discharged.
Over 90% of authorities’ VSHs are members of the National Association of Virtual School Heads (NAVSH), a charitable organisation whose aims are to advance for the public benefit, the education of looked after children and previously looked-after children and care leavers by the undertaking of research and the dissemination of the useful results thereof and by the provision of education and training for those employed in provision of care for looked after children.
The NAVSH annual conference took place over the 20th and 21st March at The Point conference centre at the Old Trafford Cricket ground in Manchester and was attended by over 230 delegates, including Tony Barnard, the Leicestershire Virtual School Head.
Speakers included Nadhim Zahawi, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families, Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, Stuart Gallimore, President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), and there were presentations from Ofsted (regarding the new school inspection framework), Derbyshire Attachment Aware Schools programme and the National Consortium of Examination Results (NCER).
Nadhim Zahawi emphasised his commitment to supporting children in care, and in particular the Care Leaver Covenant, explaining how his and other government departments are offering employment opportunities to care leavers, how universities are showing their support and the commitment already gained from prominent national businesses.
Andy Burnham spoke about the Greater Manchester care leaver offer which covers ten local authorities and which features exemption from council tax for all their care leavers. They are presently investigating how they could offer free prescriptions, free access to leisure facilities and free bus passes for care leavers.
Stuart Gallimore spoke about the high aspirations that all Directors of Families’ Services have for children in care and care leavers and how departments could work together to ensure maximum positive impact and success.
There were a range of workshops, presentations and a Q & A session featuring the NAVSH chair, the ADCS President, Andrew Baxter (Policy Officer for the DfE), a Primary School Head teacher and an Educational psychologist involved in the Derbyshire Attachment Aware Schools programme which enabled delegates to ask questions about issues around Pupil Premium Plus (PPP) funding, the impact of training, exclusions and education research relating to looked after children.
Pupil Premium Plus funding was a recurring theme throughout the two days and ADCS, DfE and NAVSH all voiced their commitment that it should be used either in school or via the Virtual School directly, to support and have a positive impact on the education of looked after children.
The conference gave the opportunity for VSH’s to share good practice, discuss current concerns and hear from key political figures about regional and national policies pertinent to looked after children, previously looked after children and care leavers, inspiring all the delegates with a refreshed outlook and many new ideas.