The role of Virtual School Head (VSH) is an incredibly rewarding one but it’s also very challenging. After all, local authorities are complex organisations with numerous processes, systems and frameworks that are constantly moving. Understanding, navigating and coordinating several systems to help meet the needs of ‘children in care’ while being aware of the variety of LA approaches, is undoubtedly a challenging part of the role.
With a marked rise in the number of Children in Care needing additional SEN support, Invision360 discusses a digital solution that has been coproduced by local authority partners.
Before we explore the solution, we must touch on some of the challenges today’s VSHs are facing.
If we look at what the data reveals, between 2005 and 2020, 6,240 school-aged children entered the care system.
Of these, a study published in January 2020 revealed that a staggering 83% required additional SEN support throughout the course of their school years.
This significant figure is surprising, not least because it does not align with any of the national figures previously published relating to that same time.
Clearly, there’s a national need for joined up working and effective communication between all services and professionals supporting these children and young people (C/YP).
As a statutory role, the VSH’s role at a local authority is to ensure that Children in Care have the maximum opportunity to reach their full education potential. Therefore, they must ensure effective education provision is in place and that it is having a positive impact on children and young people’s progress.
Essentially, as part of a local authority’s corporate parent role, the VSH is an educational advocate for Children in Care, in a similar way that parents are for other children.
As any VSH will know, when considering Children in Care, education and SEND, there are key statutory documents that must be in place to facilitate positive progress through a multi-disciplinary and joined-up approach. As such, the Personal Education Plan (PEP) and EHCP (where required), are both key documents that should enable collaboration across services.
It’s quite a balancing act making sure that a Child in Care receives a PEP that meets their educational needs, especially with such a large rise in children requiring additional SEN support.
After all, the VSH must ensure social workers, designated teachers and schools, and carers all understand their role and responsibilities in initiating, developing, reviewing, updating and quality assuring each child’s PEP.
So, let’s consider what a PEP should and should not do. To be effective and high quality, a PEP should be linked to, but not duplicate or conflict with, information in any other plans held by the child’s education setting or responsible authority. For example, another plan may be a care plan or an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).
If we look at the percentage of children and young people in care requiring SEN provision, almost 25% receive an EHCP. For context, an EHCP is a legal document requiring a local authority to provide agreed additional support, generally for the most high-need pupils.
In short, EHCPs are key for children and young people aged up to 25 who need additional support beyond what is available through the school’s allocated resources. As such, EHCPs identify education, health, and social needs, and set-out the additional support to meet those needs.
However, there are some very real challenges local authorities up and down the country are facing with regards to EHCPs. For instance, we know that the continuing rise in the number of EHCPs is placing greater demand on LA services. After all, the local authority must seek social care advice as part of the EHCP assessment as a time where children’s social services are already stretched to capacity.
There are several approaches being adopted by LAs as they seek to address the quality assurance of EHCPs.
One such approach, currently adopted by more than 15% of local authorities, is the new Invision360 EHCP audit tool. It’s the first online approach that aims to standardise the quality assurance approach of EHCPs across local authorities and allows benchmarking at a regional and national level.
Those local authorities already using the QA tool are seeing some incredible results, including Knowsley Council, Surrey County Council, and Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council, to name just a few.
Now, the Invision360 team, together with its local authority partners, are hoping to replicate the success of the EHCP audit tool with a digital PEP QA audit tool.
Much like the EHCP audit tool, the PEP QA tool enables more consistent and objective auditing through a standardised criterion-based process that aligns with ePEP themes and categories. Essentially, it takes away the subjectivity that may exist within a local authority’s own PEP auditing processes and systems.
Additionally, VSHs can benchmark PEPs against regional and national data, which along with the tool’s internal moderation processes, will prove to be invaluable.
With current research showing a significantly high number of Children in Care having SEND, LA systems and infrastructures needs to be designed to support VSHs in being effective in their role. Furthermore, with the SEND landscape being complex in all local authorities, having a consistent approach across LA borders will only improve our ability to meet the needs of Children in Care.
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