Education of Looked After Children

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This process applies to all Looked After Children in the London Borough of Merton. It should be read in conjunction with government guidance and other local documents that inform and underpin our work with Looked After Children, such as:

Promoting the Education of Looked After Children and Previously Looked After Children

Designated Teacher for Looked After and Previously Looked After Children

Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice: 0 - 25 years Statutory Guidance for Organisations who work with Children and Young People with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, DfE (2015)

Supporting Pupils at School with Medical Conditions (2017)

Mental Health and Behaviour in Schools - Departmental Advice for Schools Staff (2018)

Keeping Children Safe in Education (2018)

Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges

Supporting Pupils at School with Medical Conditions: Statutory Guidance for Governing Bodies of Maintained Schools and Proprietors of Academies in England

Sexting: how to respond to an incident

Data protection: a toolkit for schools
This guidance draws attention to the link between data protection and child protection (although data protection is broader than just child protection) and notes that personal data can relate to pupils, staff, parents and potentially others. It makes clear that GDPR does not prevent, or limit, the sharing of information for the purposes of keeping children safe.

Exclusion from Maintained Schools, Academies and Pupil Referral Units

Note that different provisions apply to children who acquire Looked After status as a result of a remand to local authority accommodation or Youth Detention Accommodation. In relation to those children, please see Remands to Local Authority Accommodation or to Youth Detention Accommodation Procedure, Care Planning for Young People on Remand.

RELEVANT LINK

Virtual School for Looked After Children

RELEVANT CHAPTER

Delegation of Authority to Foster Carers Procedure

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in June 2019 to reflect amendments made by the Children and Social Work Act 2017.

These changes inclue the status of 'previously looked after children' i.e. a previously looked-after child is one who is no longer looked after in England and Wales because they are the subject of an adoption, special guardianship or child arrangements order which includes arrangements relating to with whom the child is to live, or when the child is to live with any person, or has been adopted from 'state care' outside England and Wales. The chapter includes a new Section 14, Mental Health and a new Section 8, Safeguarding the Looked After Child at School.

In addition, the chapter reflects the statutory guidance Keeping children safe in education (KCSIE) 2018, as it relates to Looked After Children and guidance regarding Data protection and safeguarding as set out in Data protection: a toolkit for schools (Open Beta: Version 1.0) (August 2018).
IMPORTANT NOTE: in line with guidance "Keeping Children Safe in Education" the term "must" in this chapter is for when the person in question is legally required to do something and the term "should" is used when the advice set out should be followed unless there is good reason not to.

1. The Virtual School for Looked After Children and Care Leavers - Roles and Responsibilities

Duty to Promote the Educational Achievement of Looked After and Previously Looked After Children

Under the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) schools and colleges that are public bodies have a general duty to have regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation, to advance equality of opportunity between different groups and to foster good relations between different groups. The duty applies to all protected characteristics and means that whenever significant decisions are being made or policies developed, thought must be given to the equality implications such as, for example, the elimination of sexual violence and sexual harassment. Looked After Children may be classed as having protected characteristics as a result of disability, age, religious beliefs, sexual orientation and/or race.

Under section 22 (3A) (as amended by section 4 of the Children and Social Work Act 2017) of the Children Act 1989, local authorities have a specific duty to promote the educational achievement of Looked After and Previously Looked After children. Section 99 of the Children and Families Act 2014 imposes a requirement for an officer to be appointed to discharge this duty - sometimes referred to as a 'Virtual School Head' (VSH).

Previously Looked After Children are those children who are no longer looked after in England and Wales because they are:

The subject of an adoption, special guardianship or child arrangements order which includes arrangements relating to with whom the child is to live, or when the child is to live with any person, or has been adopted from 'state care' outside England and Wales.

(A child is in 'state care' outside England and Wales if they are in the care of, or accommodated by, a public authority, a religious organisation or any other organisation the sole or main purpose of which is to benefit society).

A previously looked after child potentially remains vulnerable and all staff should have the skills, knowledge and understanding to keep previously looked after children safe. When dealing with looked after children and previously looked after children, it is important that all agencies work together and prompt action is taken on concerns to safeguard these children, who are a particularly vulnerable group.

Promoting the Educational Achievement of Previously Looked After Children

Local authorities have a duty under section 23ZZA of the Children Act 1989 (inserted by section 4 of the Children and Social Work Act 2017) to promote the educational achievement of Previously Looked After Children in their area by providing information and advice to:

  • Any person who has Parental Responsibility for the child;
  • Providers of funded early years education, Designated Teachers for Looked After and Previously Looked After Children in maintained schools and academies; and
  • Any other person the authority considers appropriate for promoting the educational achievement of relevant children.

The duty applies to children who are in early years' provision (secured by the local authority under section 7(1) of the Childcare Act 2006) and continues throughout the compulsory years of education where the child is in provision funded in part or in full by the state.

Roles and Responsibilities

What are we?

The Virtual School is not a teaching institution. It is "a model by which the LA can provide services and support for the education of looked after children and a constructive challenge to those providing the services". It works closely with Social Care as well as other agencies and departments within the Local Authority so that there is a holistic and comprehensive approach to the support of LAC in all areas of their lives. We provide information and advice to the parents of previously looked after children attending Merton schools.

What is our purpose?

Our overall aim is to secure high quality provision and help to produce better educational outcomes for Looked After Children by working to ensure they reach their potential by making the best possible progress, achieving appropriate standards and qualifications so that they have better life chances.

We work on behalf of and with looked children who are of school age and either looked after by Merton or are schooled in Merton and care leavers who are in education and training up to the age of 25.

Who are we?

The Virtual School Team comprises a Headteacher and Advisory Teachers with age/phase specialisms, an EET Keyworker and administrative staff including a Data Support Officer. We sometimes extend our team for additional expertise and support.

Who do we work with?

The Virtual School works in close partnership with carers and other professionals, both within and outside the Local Authority. This includes Schools, Early Years Settings, Academies, Pupil Referral Units and Alternative Education Providers. The Virtual School also supports young people at college and university.

How do we work?

Children and Young People

The Virtual School Head promotes a culture that takes account of the child's views according to age and understanding in identifying and meeting their educational needs. We ensure the status of the child and their entitlement to support is made clear to all the professionals supporting that child.

We liaise with the Early Years Team to help ensure that the education and early learning socialisation needs of our very young looked after children are identified and met through integrated care and education provision as appropriate.

We ensure that the educational needs and achievements of children and young people are identified, tracked and met through the Personal Education Plan or Pathway Plan and The Virtual School's Information Managements System, including ensuring entitlement to and impact of Pupil Premium for relevant pupils.

The Virtual School is also ambitious to promote the holistic development of its children and young people through facilitating access to extra-curricular and developmental activities, including the arts (e.g. music, drama) and physical activity such as swimming or sports clubs.

We may arrange special help through out of school hours tuition to those students who are identified as underachieving and those that need to meet specific targets or ambitions.

We raise expectations and aspirations by making use of initiatives for widening participation in further and higher education and support gifted and talented and students in terms of advice and placement as they leave the last year of compulsory education and to ensure they remain in education, employment or training. This includes help with writing and submitting CVs and application forms.

Carers

We work to ensure that carers see the importance of education and provide training and information on admission to school, the curriculum, school related behaviour and attendance and how to help their child achieve their best at school or college. We provide learning materials and training to support their child to study at home.

Social Workers

The Virtual School provides social workers with training, advice and guidance on educational issues, including support to achieve school and placement stability and specialist advice from Advisory Teachers on the educational impact of care plans.

The Advisory Teachers and Administrative Staff monitors attendance and punctuality and supports the process of ensuring timely and quality Personal Educational Plans for each Looked After Child.

The Virtual School provides support and training regarding policy and practice to understand and meet the needs of children in public care, including advocacy and for Designated Teachers. It can also facilitate communication with other authorities that have a Looked after Child placed in the school/provision.

Advisory Teachers and the Virtual School Administrative staff service, advise and monitor Personal Education Plans. The Virtual School attends all Personal Education Planning meetings, and, where appropriate, may be represented at Personal Support Planning meetings, Education, Health and Care Planning and Annual reviews, attendance and exclusion/reintegration meetings.

The Virtual School can provide additional support for options/careers advice for Looked After Children.

The Local Authority, Officers and Lead Member

The Virtual School seeks to contribute to raising the profile of The Local Authority as Corporate Parent and provides the Local Authority with the information it needs to complete reports, meet inspection needs and to assess our own performance.

Merton schools

The Virtual School provides advice, support and challenge to schools attended by Merton LAC.

The Virtual School can provide advice to Merton schools about the education of Previously Looked After Children.

2. The Personal Education Plan (PEP)

In addition to the usual school records for all children, every child in care of statutory school age must have a Personal Education Plan (PEP). The Personal Education Plan should be initiated as part of the Care Planning process before a child becomes Looked After and no later than 10 working days after a child comes into care. In the case of an emergency placement, the PEP should be made available for the child's Looked After Review.

The PEP sets clear objectives for children and young people relating to academic achievement, and as well as personal and behaviour targets both in and out of school. It identifies, with the child's parent and/or relevant family member or carer, key worker or Special Guardian, the school's Designated Named Teacher and the allocated social worker. Each PEP will detail the actions, services and timescales needed to ensure the child or young person makes progress in line with their individual needs and circumstances.

The PEP provides essential information to ensure that appropriate support is in place to enable all Looked After Children to maximise their potential. It also provides a record of the child's educational achievements while they are in care. The outcome of the PEP should set out clear aims, objectives and targets, which can be reviewed for the child, covering the following areas:

  • A chronology of their education and/or training history which provides a record of the child's educational experience and may indicate extent to which the child's education and progress has been disrupted before entering care or accommodation. The chronology should include any existing arrangements for education and training including special educational need and provision, information about education previously attended and reasons for leaving, attendance, achievement and progress in terms of academic attainment (see National curriculum assessments - GOV.UK) and/or other academic achievements, and behaviour management information;
  • Any planned changes to existing arrangements and provision to minimise any disruption; e.g. secondary transfer or change of placement;
  • The child's leisure interests;
  • The role of the primary carer and another persons who cares for the child promoting their educational achievements and leisure interests;
  • The effective use of the Pupil Premium for Looked After Children and specific to the child;
  • Details of who will take the plan forward, with timescales for action and review.

The PEP should:

  • Identify developmental including social, emotional, behavioural (including any related to attachment) and educational needs (short and longer term) in relation to skills, knowledge, subject areas and experiences;
  • Include SMART short-term targets, including progress monitoring of each of the areas identified against development and educational needs;
  • Include SMART longer-term plans for educational targets and aspirations. These should, according to age and understanding, typically focus on public examinations, further and higher education, work experience and career plans and aspirations;
  • Identify actions, with time scales, for specific individuals intended to support the achievement of agreed targets and use of any additional resources (e.g. the pupil premium) specifically designated to support the attainment of looked after children;
  • Highlight access to effective intervention strategies and how this will make/has made a difference to achievement levels.

The PEP must include the contact details of the Virtual School Head for the authority that looks after the child.

The PEP also enables information to move quickly with Looked After Children so that they can be placed appropriately and provided with the support and services they need.

In circumstances when a child has no school place, the Virtual School will work with the social worker, local education department and carer, to secure an appropriate educational provision. The service will ensure continuity of education through time-limited private tuition while a school place is sought.

Where a child has an Education, Health and Care Plan, the Virtual School will work closely with the relevant SEN department so that the statutory requirements within the plan can be fulfilled.

Avoidance of Disruption in Education

The Virtual School must be consulted and be a part of the initial planning and approval with the allocated social worker if there is to be a change to a child's placement.

In exceptional cases where there is an emergency, and a placement is terminated immediately there will be a meeting/discussion with the Head of The Virtual School within no more than 2 working days to discuss how the child's education will be managed and who will take the lead role to minimise disruption to the child's education plan.

In these circumstances, Merton will make arrangements to promote the child's educational achievement as soon as reasonably practicable and ensuring that:

  • The child's wishes and feelings have been ascertained and given due consideration;
  • The wishes and feelings of the parent(s) have been ascertained where the child is accommodated (wherever possible) and when the child is subject to a Care Order;
  • The educational provision will promote the child's educational achievement that is consistent with the PEP;
  • The Independent Reviewing Officer has been informed by the allocated social worker;
  • The Designated Teacher at the child's school has been consulted.
Merton has an inclusive approach with their partner agencies for all their children and young people that are Looked After. The aim is to ensure that Looked After education are fully supported to be in either education, training or other identified provision to promote their learning opportunities. The government's commitment to raising the participation age of young people is fully supported by us and we track our young people who fall within this specific group.

3. When a Child First becomes Looked After

3.1 Notification

Partnership working and a joint approach to information sharing across services is essential to ensure that information is not lost and a child or young person's education needs are appropriately met.

Wherever possible, prior to becoming Looked After, or immediately a child becomes Looked After to Merton, the allocated social worker must notify the Designated Teacher at the child's school or education setting, and the Virtual School.

If the child has an Education, Health and Care Plan or this is under assessment, the allocated social worker should ensure the relevant SEN case worker within the SEND Integrated Service is informed.

The allocated social worker and the Virtual School will liaise to arrange a First Personal Education Plan meeting with the school and/or educational setting, Regular contact should then be maintained and clearly recorded on the child's case file.

3.2 The First Personal Education Plan

The first PEP should be initiated as part of the child's Care Plan within 10 working days of a child becoming Looked After.

The allocated social worker will consult with the Virtual School to convene and attend a meeting to draw up the first PEP. The process of undertaking this meeting should align with the LAC Review schedule and take place within 20 days of the child becoming looked after. This meeting should normally be held at the child's school or education provision and include the following attendees: the child or young person, the child's primary carer, the social worker, a representative from the Virtual School, and the Named Designated Teacher. For children with special educational needs, it may also include the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO), other education professionals and for those with a Statement of Educational Needs or Education, Health and Care Plans, the named SEN Caseworker. It may also be appropriate for parents to attend a PEP so they are a part of the decision making process, even though their child is not residing with them.

In exceptional cases, where a child has no school place, the relevant education officer from the borough that child resides will be expected to attend. They will be asked to lead and identify a school place. For children and young people with Education, Health and Care Plan the named SEN case worker should also be asked to co-ordinate the consultation process to ensure that a child is reintegrated back into education in a timely way.

Where a child has a fixed term exclusion from school, the Head Teacher (or other senior school representative) should also be invited to the meeting. The PEP cannot proceed if there is no representation from the school where the child or young person is on-roll.

The first PEP should:

  • Identify the educational and social factors that may have caused or may cause in the future a detrimental effect on the child's educational achievement;
  • Identify the support required to reduce the impact of these factors;
  • Identify the child's immediate and priority needs and targets, (e.g. to maintain the current school place, make transport arrangements, find a new school, obtain short-term interim education);
  • Incorporate any SEN Support or other school-based plan;
  • Identify a named person for the day to day management of the PEP and establish lines of communication between the staff/carer, school/education staff and social worker - the basis of a working partnership;
  • Establish boundaries of confidentiality;
  • Agree a date for the next PEP review meeting and how and when the next PEP is going to be drawn up.

The completed PEP should be distributed to the child, if they are age appropriate to understand the information, the parent/s, the primary carer and all others invited to the meeting. A copy should also be sent to the child's Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) so that the IRO is fully aware of the PEP and so that it is included as an essential part of the child's LAC Review.

Please Note: The provision of education for pupils with an Education, Health and Care Plans can only be changed if this has been amended at an annual/interim/emergency review. Their EHC Plan will remain with them regardless of the borough in which they are placed and the SEN 0-25 Code of Practice requires that administration normally transfers to the authority where the child is placed. However, Merton SENDIS will retain administrative responsibility if, in the view of the Head of Service for SENDIS and Virtual School Headteacher, this is deemed to be in the child's best interest.

3.3 Monitoring and Reviewing the PEP in School

Designated Teachers should work closely with other staff in school to make sure the child's progress is rigorously monitored and evaluated. They should be able to:

  • Judge whether the teaching and learning and intervention strategies being used are working to support achievement and wellbeing; and
  • Know whether the young person is likely to meet the attainment targets in their PEP.

If the young person is not on track to meet targets, the Designated Teacher should be instrumental in agreeing the best way forward with them in order to make progress and ensure that this is reflected in the PEP.

A child's Care Plan is reviewed regularly by the authority that looks after them, the first being within 20 working days of being Accommodated. The IRO will ask about the child's educational progress as part of the overall Care Plan review and should have access to the most up-to-date PEP (see Looked After Reviews Procedure).

So that there can be an informed discussion at the statutory review of the Care Plan about the child's progress in school, the Designated Teacher is responsible for ensuring that:

  • They review the PEP before the statutory review of the Care Plan, it is up-to-date and contains any new information since the last PEP review, including whether agreed provision is being delivered;
  • The PEP is clear about what has or has not been taken forward, noting what resources may be required to further support the child and from where these may be sourced; and
  • They pass the updated PEP to the child's social worker and VSH ahead of the statutory review of the Care Plan.

The school and the local authority which looks after the child have a shared responsibility for helping Looked After Children to achieve and enjoy. The content, implementation and review of the PEP enable both the school and local authority to discuss how they can help achieve this. The PEP review should be done through a meeting involving the social worker, the young person, carers and others, such as the VSH.

4. When a Child Moves to a New Local Authority

Should a child be placed in a different local authority but continue to attend the same school, the procedure outlined in Section 3.2, The First Personal Education Plan applies.

If the child will need a new school, enquiries to obtain a school place should (unless it is an emergency placement) begin BEFORE s/he moves to a new placement. The Virtual School and, if appropriate, the SEN case worker should be provided with a full educational history and asked to assist in the search for a new school place. It is the responsibility of the social worker to complete the school admissions application form for all children other than those with an EHC Plan in place.

Whenever possible a child should not be moved to a new placement until s/he has a school place.

Where the child does not have a school place - see Section 6, When a Child has No School Place.

Pupils with Education, Health and Care Plans

Ensuring the statutory entitlements for children with an Education, Health and Care Plan can result in a lengthy process of consultation should a new school or education setting be needed.

Practitioners considering a change of placement which means that a change of school is needed should be mindful of this and plan, alongside the Virtual School as early as possible, to ensure the EHCP works in harmony with the Care Plan and minimises the risk of a child being without a school place.

5. When a Child Needs or Joins a New School

The choice of school requires skilled working between relevant people. It should be based on a discussion between the Virtual School, the child's social worker, their carers and, if appropriate, birth parents. Looked After and Previously Looked After children are given the highest priority within school admission arrangements. VSHs, working with education settings, should implement pupil premium arrangements for looked after children. The child's wishes and feelings should be taken into account and the suitability of the education setting tested by arranging an informal visit with the child.

It is Merton's policy to seek a school place in schools or education settings with Ofsted judgements 'Good' or 'Outstanding'. In exceptional circumstances, where a school has been judged not to reach this standard, approval must be via the Virtual School from the Assistant Director for Education.

Looked After children often report that school is a place of consistency and continuity for them so changes of school should be avoided - see Section 3, Avoidance of Disruption in Education. In exceptional cases when a child needs or joins a new school it is paramount that a plans are made to ensure as smooth a transition as possible.

All changes to a child's school place will need to be updated, as a matter of priority, on the social care information system and Virtual School records.

5.1 Notification

The allocated social worker is responsible for informing the key professionals within the school: the Designated Teacher and/or the Head Teacher that the child is Looked After. A copy of the child's current PEP should be provided, as this fosters best practice and it also sets the scene for the school to be able to appropriately plan any additional resources for the child. Other key staff that need to know information should be identified at the first PEP meeting, taking into account the child's wishes with regard to confidentiality. If any additional staff become involved they should form a part of the wider professional network for sharing information.

5.2 Pupils with Education, Health and Care Plans

The allocated social worker will ensure that he/she is aware of the current position with regard to the child's Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), including any additional support provided and by whom. Significant dates such as forthcoming EHCP Reviews and medical appointments if offered within the educational setting should be shared with the school from both the primary carer and the Social Worker. A professional meeting should be convened wherever possible to ensure that there is a clear vision of the educational planning for the child.

5.3 Pupil Premium Plus (PP+) Funding

All Looked-after and previously looked after children are eligible for PP+ funding. This is additional funding provided to help improve the attainment of looked-after and previously looked-after children and close the attainment gap between this group and their peers. It is not a personal budget for individual children. The extra funding provided by the PP+ reflects the significant additional barriers faced by looked-after and previously looked-after children. The designated teacher has an important role in ensuring the specific needs of looked-after and previously looked-after children are understood by the school’s staff and reflected in how the school uses PP+ to support these children.

The PP+ for looked after children is managed by the VSH. However the PP+ for previously looked after children is managed by the school.

The PP+ is a key component in ensuring resources are available to support the child’s Personal Education Plan and the plan should clarify what the support is and how it will be delivered.

5.4 The First PEP in a New School

A new or updated PEP should be in place within the first 20 days of a child joining a new school.

The first PEP in a new school should:

  • Identify the child's immediate needs (e.g. English as an additional language, literacy support, behaviour management);
  • Establish contact between the child's primary carer, school staff and allocated social worker and any other professionals working with the child to ensure seamless working together;
  • Identify a named person for the day to day management of the PEP and agree who contacts whom about what;
  • Set out and establish clear boundaries with regard to confidentiality;
  • Share any significant information including the Placement Information Record;
  • Ensure that the child's view is listened to;
  • Ensure records are forwarded from the previous school and/or carer;
  • Explore the emotional and behavioural management plan and the strategies to support the child;
  • Agree a time/date/venue for the next PEP review meeting and how and when the next PEP is going to be held. The timing of this next meeting needs to take account of term dates, parents' evenings, school target setting days, SEN Support Plan reviews, annual reviews of Education, Health and Care Plan etc.). It also needs to align with the Looked After Review cycle so that the PEP is ready before, or at the review.

6. When a Child has No School Place

Unless a child has an EHC Plan, identifying a school place is jointly the responsibility of the allocated social worker and the Virtual School's and best endeavours will be made to ensure that a place is found. Where a child has an EHCP Statement of Educational Need, the Special Needs Caseworker will also need to be included. (See Section 6.4, Pupils with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP)). In the interim other resources will be explored to promote the child's educational needs and tuition will need to be provided.

6.1 PEPs

Children without a school place should still have an up-to-date PEP. It should address the child's immediate educational needs and the longer-term planning proposals.

6.2 Children Placed within the Local Authority Area

Where the child does not have a school place because one cannot be found, or because mainstream school is not appropriate to his or her current educational needs, the allocated social worker should notify and seek assistance from the education department, via the Virtual School, (and the SEN case worker, as appropriate). The local Education Department should identify a school place within 20 working days and should be asked to provide alternative education, such as a private tutor whilst a suitable education placement is found.

6.3 Children Placed in a Different Local Authority Area

Where a move to a different local authority area means that the child does not have a school place because one cannot be found, or the child has been placed at very short notice, the allocated social worker should notify the education department in the area where the child is placed.

Assistance should be sought from the local Education Department, and the Virtual School. Unless Section 6.4, Pupils with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP) applies, the education service local to the placement should identify a school place no less than 20 working days and they should provide alternative education if a school place cannot be found.

6.4 Pupils with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP)

Applications for school places for pupils with a Education, Health and Care Plans should be planned for as early as possible to avoid delay in secure a school place. They should be made through the special needs department and not directly to the school. Dependent on the care plan, and in most instances, the EHCP Caseworker will request the local Education Department of residence to adopt and maintain the Plan. In all instances the EHCP Caseworker will request the local authority of residence to maintain the plan.

Once the Education, Health and Care Plan has been adopted the local authority in which the child lives is responsible for updating the Education, Health and Care Plan but will be required to consult with Merton SENDIS if the Education, Health and Care Plan is to be amended.

When the child's is placed in a school outside of their local authority of residence, the educational authority retains responsibility for updating the Education, Health and Care Plan.

7. Celebrating a LAC Child's Achievements

The Virtual School endeavours to capture children's achievements, educational or other, through the PEP process. These achievements should be also be acknowledged at one or more of the following times: at Looked After (or other) Reviews; in school reports; and after exams; within the placement with their carers.

As part of life story work, pictures taken of celebratory moments should be shared and form a part of these achievements

See Life Story Work Procedure.

Recording a Child's Educational Progress and Achievements

Currently all children's developmental and education progress, from Early Years to the end of Key Stage 4, is assessed, tracked and recorded.

The Virtual School tracks the educational progress and attainment, of all Merton Looked After Children from Early Years to Higher Education, This is to ensure they make good progress in line with their academic potential.

Academic, vocational or other qualifications and achievements are recorded on the PEP, the social care information system and the Virtual School's Information Management System.

8. Safeguarding the Looked After Child at School

All staff in the school should be aware of the systems in the school that support safeguarding. These systems should be explained to them as part of induction and there should be regular update training for all staff. This should include:

  1. The child protection policy and procedures;
  2. The Data Protection Act and safeguarding;
  3. The child behaviour policy;
  4. The staff behaviour policy (code of conduct);
  5. The safeguarding response to children who go missing from education.

All staff must report any concerns regarding Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

8.1 Child protection policy and procedures

Following induction, all staff should have read the child protection policy and have an awareness of safeguarding issues and be clear about how to report concerns and who they should report to. Staff should be aware that behaviours linked to issues such as drug taking, alcohol abuse, deliberately missing education and sexting put children in danger.

All children should feel and be safe in the school they attend. Looked After Children are a vulnerable group. The aim of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of all children in education should be:

  • Protecting them from maltreatment;
  • Preventing any impairment of their health or development;
  • Ensuring they are growing up in circumstances consistent with safe and effective care;
  • Being proactive in enabling them to experience positive outcomes.

8.2 Data protection and safeguarding

NOTE: Information does not refer simply to written or electronically stored records. It also refers to other kinds of information such as biometric data (for example, use of finger prints to receive school dinners or to enter buildings).

GDPR does not prevent, or limit, the sharing of information for the purposes of keeping children safe. Lawful and secure information sharing between schools, Children's Social Care, and other local agencies, is essential for keeping children safe and ensuring they get the support they need.

When Designated Safeguarding Leads in schools are considering whether, or not, to share safeguarding information (especially with other agencies) it is considered best practice for them to record who they are sharing that information with and for what reason. If they have taken a decision not to seek consent from the data subject and/or parent/carer that should also be recorded within the safeguarding file.

All relevant information can be shared without consent if to gain consent would place a child at risk. Fears about sharing information must not be allowed to stand in the way of promoting the welfare and protecting the safety of children. As with all data sharing, appropriate organisational and technical safeguards should still be in place.

8.3 Protecting Looked After Children from adults that may pose a risk to them and/or other children in the school

It is essential that social workers, carers and school staff, particularly the Designated Safeguarding Lead, have absolute clarity with regard to who is and is not allowed to have access to any Looked After Child.

Any suspicion regarding any adult seeking contact with the child, either in person or through social media, during school hours should be reported to the Designated Safeguarding Lead immediately.

Any member of staff who has concerns about anyone working within the school (staff, volunteers) or undertaking work on or near school premises (contractors, advisors, catering and so forth) must inform a senior member of staff immediately.

The child's social worker must then be informed and child protection procedures then followed. Staff will also need to be aware of issues such as forced marriage and FGM that may have led to some children becoming looked after.

See: Merton LSCB website, Child in need of protection.

8.4 Protecting looked after children from peer on peer abuse

For further information, please see: Part 5 of KCSIE - Child on Child Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment.

All staff should be aware that safeguarding issues can manifest themselves via peer on peer abuse. This can include (but is not limited to) bullying (including cyberbullying); sexual violence and sexual harassment; physical abuse such as hitting, kicking, shaking, biting, hair pulling, or otherwise causing physical harm; sexting and initiating/hazing type violence and rituals. Staff should be clear as to the school or college's policy and procedures with regards to peer on peer abuse.

Looked After and Previously Looked After Children can be particularly vulnerable to individual or group bullying either in person or through social media where they can be subject to verbal and physical violence and/or sexual violence and harassment.

Girls are at significantly greater risk of sexual harassment and assault than boys. Schools and colleges should ensure that their response to sexual violence and sexual harassment between children of the same identified gender is equally robust as it is for sexual violence and sexual harassment between children of different identified genders.

Schools must have procedures in place to protect all children, but particularly vulnerable groups of children such as Looked After Children, from unwanted and damaging interactions with their peers. It is important, as well, to be aware that Looked After and Previously Looked After Children may be the perpetrators of abuse. In this case the school or college will have a difficult balancing act to consider. On the one hand to safeguard the victim (and the wider student body) and on the other hand providing the alleged perpetrator with an education, safeguarding support as appropriate and implementing any disciplinary sanctions.

See: London Child Protection Procedures, Bullying.

8.5 Assisting Looked After Children to reduce risk taking behaviour

There is a whole range of risk taking behaviours that Looked After and Previously Looked After Children could be involved in ranging from gang based activities to drug and alcohol abuse and/or radicalisation.

A child going missing from education is a potential indicator of abuse or neglect and such children are at risk of being victims of harm, exploitation or radicalisation.

School and college staff should follow their procedures for unauthorised absence and for dealing with children that go missing from education, particularly on repeat occasions, to help identify the risk of abuse and neglect, including sexual or criminal exploitation, and to help prevent the risks of going missing in future. It is essential that all staff are alert to signs to look out for and the individual triggers to be aware of when considering the risks of potential safeguarding concerns such as travelling to conflict zones, female genital mutilation and forced marriage.

Further information about children at risk of missing education can be found in the Children Missing Education - Statutory guidance for local authorities.

Where necessary, the Children Missing from Care Procedure must be followed - see Merton Safeguarding Children Board.

9. When a Child is Absent from School

There is an expectation that All Looked after children should be supported to achieve maximum attendance at school. The Virtual School collects attendance data and are alerted to continuous absence of one day or more.

When a child is unable to attend school, the foster carer or residential placement must notify the school, their supervising social worker and the allocated social worker immediately if the child does not attend school for any reason.

In any case where a child has been absent from school for more than 3 days the social worker should be liaising with the child age appropriately, the school, the placement and their carer and any other relevant persons to invite their views and address, as follows:

  • The reasons for the absence; the social worker should make best endeavours to meet with the child alone to ensure that they capture an accurate account from them on their absence from school;
  • How to ensure the child returns to education as soon as possible and how they will be reintegrated;
  • Whether and how the child can be helped to catch up on what s/he has missed and how this will be managed and by whom;
  • Agree discussion and recommendations and upload to the social care information system.

Where necessary, Children Missing from Home and Care Policy must be followed.

Where attendance falls below the 90% threshold, the Looked After Child is identified and tracked through the LAC Concern Process and an attendance plan developed if necessary.

Children who miss school for 20 consecutive days are referred by the Virtual School to the Children Missing Education Panel which meets monthly.

10. School Exclusions

The Virtual School works with other professionals and schools to rigorously challenge and avoid school exclusion.

Please Note: Where a Looked After Child has a fixed term exclusion or is at risk of exclusion from school, the allocated social worker must inform the child's Independent Reviewing Officer and the Virtual School immediately.

The Virtual School collects data on the number of and reasons for exclusions for Looked After in order to identify and, if appropriate, challenge any trends.

10.1 Fixed term exclusions

Looked After and Previously Looked After Children have disproportionately high rates of exclusion and are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of exclusions.

Exclusion from school should be a last resort for children who are Looked After or Previously Looked After, therefore it is important to work with the school and carers to intervene as soon as a child's behaviour becomes a cause for concern. Strategies should be explored as far as possible to ensure that they are can be supported to remain in their educational provision.

Where a Looked After Child is excluded from school for a fixed period, the school and the local authority should work together to arrange alternative provision from the first day of the exclusion. At the very least, schools are responsible to providing work for the child for the first five days of the exclusion and the allocated social worker must liaise with the primary carer about the arrangements for supervising the child to ensure the legal requirement that an excluded pupil is not present in a public place during school hours without reasonable justification With effect from the sixth day the school should provide a place for the child to be educated.

The school are expected to outline the reasons for the exclusion to the primary carers, the social worker and the Virtual School. Whoever is identified as the most appropriate one to do so will steer these discussions with the child. The social worker will inform the parents and update them on any changing circumstances.

The social worker, in consultation with the child and parents and The Virtual School must seek independent and/or legal advice as to whether to seek an independent review of the decision to exclude the child, If the child is in primary school and receives fixed term exclusion or is in secondary school and is excluded for more than five days, the social worker should ensure a meeting is held within the five days to discuss his/her return and how best this can be supported, especially exploring if any resources are needed that the educational provision manages this ensure inclusion.

See Merton Council School Exclusions.

10.2 Permanent exclusions

The current DfE guidance on school exclusion requires schools to work in conjunction with a range of professionals to avoid the use of permanent exclusion.

During the first five days of exclusion from school the education department are expected to provide work and the child should remain at their placement during school hours. From the sixth day the local authority must arrange suitable full-time education for any pupil of compulsory school age.

If appropriate the primary carer or anyone who has Parental Responsibility can request the decision to exclude the pupil to be reviewed by an Independent Review Panel. This request must be made within 15 school days from the date on which notice in writing was given to the carer/social worker. (See Exclusions from Maintained Schools, Academies and Pupil Referral Units in England (DfE)).

11. When a Young Woman becomes Pregnant

Becoming pregnant is not in itself a reason to stop attending school, nor to cease education.

Where a Looked After young person becomes pregnant, the allocated social worker must ensure they remain in education, training or employment if at all possible.

Arrangements should be made for the expectant mother to receive support from the local authority and other agency partners for the area in which they live and/or the school they attend.

12. School Transport

In order to maintain continuity of school provision those with responsibility for school transport should be approached to provide assistance with transport. A decision will be made taking into account the child's age and the distance from the child's address to the nearest suitable school.

13. Children and Young People with Medical Conditions

From 1st September 2014, governing bodies have a statutory duty to make arrangements to support pupils at school with medical conditions. The Designated Medical Officer can support schools with these duties. For more information, see Supporting Pupils at School with Medical Conditions, statutory guidance from the Department for Education.

14. Mental Health

Looked After and Previously Looked After Children are more likely to experience the challenge of social, emotional and mental health issues than their peers. For example, they may struggle with executive functioning skills, forming trusting relationships, social skills, managing strong feelings (e.g. shame, sadness, anxiety and anger), sensory processing difficulties, foetal alcohol syndrome and coping with transitions and change. This can impact on their behaviour and education.

Designated Teachers are not expected to be mental health experts; however, they have an important role in ensuring they and other school staff can identify signs of potential issues and understand where the school can draw on specialist services, such as CAMHS and educational psychologists. In addition, many schools have an officer responsible for making links with mental health services, with whom Designated Teachers can work closely. Where such an officer is available, Designated Teachers should work with them, and the VSH to ensure that they, and other school staff, have the skills to:

  • Identify signs of potential mental health issues, and know how to access further assessment and support where necessary, making full use of the SENCO and local authority support team where applicable; and
  • Understand the impact trauma, attachment disorder and other mental health issues can have on Looked After and Previously Looked After Children and their ability to engage in learning. It is also important that the Designated Teacher and other school staff are aware that these issues will continue to affect Previously Looked After Children, and that the school will need to continue to respond appropriately to their needs.

15. Young People Remanded to Youth Detention Accommodation

All children remanded to youth detention accommodation become LAC. During the period of remand, the child will have a detention placement plan which should include information about:

  • The arrangements made by staff in the youth detention accommodation for the child's education and training;
  • The name of the VSH responsible for discharging the local authority's duty to promote the educational achievement of LAC by the authority.

16. Training for those Involved in the Care and Education of Looked After and Previously Looked After Children

The VSH makes appropriate arrangements in place to meet the training needs and support of those responsible for promoting the educational achievement of Looked After and Previously Looked After children. This includes carers, social workers, Designated Teachers, school governors, other school staff and IROs.

Such training, among other things, should include information about school admission arrangements; Special Educational Needs; attendance and exclusions; homework; choosing GCSE options; managing any challenging behaviour in relation to education settings; promoting positive educational and recreational activities and supporting children to be aspirational for their future education; training and employment, and the importance of listening to and taking account of the child's wishes and feelings about education and the PEP process.

17. Information Sharing

VSHs have access to a secure email account that enables them to exchange information securely with other VSHs in whose area they have placed children.

Arrangements for sharing reliable data are in place, particularly in relation to the tracking and monitoring of attainment data and notifications of where children, including those placed out-of-authority, are being educated, and must set out:

  • Who has access to what information and how the security of data will be ensured;
  • How children and parents are informed of, and allowed to challenge, information that is kept about them;
  • How carers contribute to and receive information;
  • Mechanisms for sharing information between relevant local authority departments and schools;
  • How relevant information about individual children is passed promptly between authorities, departments and schools when young people move. Relevant information includes the PEP, which as part of the looked after child's educational record should be transferred with them to the new school.

For further information regarding sharing of information, please see: Section 8.2, Data protection and safeguarding.

Trix procedures

Only valid for 48hrs