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:
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
This chapter was reviewed and updated in May 2018 to add Section 14, Young People Remanded to Youth Detention Accommodation. Section 2, The Personal Education Plan (PEP) has been fully revised, and a number of additions made to the content of other sections:
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.
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 after 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
The Virtual School encourages and supports students to develop their own interests and participate in extra curricular or out of school activities. The Virtual School has established a tradition of holding an annual 'special event' to provide Looked After Children with an opportunity to show and celebrate their talents and achievements.
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.
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. Where appropriate, The Virtual School may be represented at Individual Education Planning meetings, 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 MemberThe 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.
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:
The PEP should:
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.
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:
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.
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, (foster carer, key worker of Special Guardian as appropriate) 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 Statements of Educational Need 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 can not proceed if there is no representation from the school where the child or young person is on-roll.
The first PEP should:
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.
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.
Ensuring the statutory entitlements for children with a 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.
The choice of school requires skilled working between relevant people. It should be based on a discussion between the Virtual School, child's social worker, their carers and, if appropriate, birth parents. 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 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Reviews; in school reports; and after exams; within the placement with their carers and at Merton's Celebrating Success Annual Award Ceremony.
As part of life story work, pictures taken of celebratory moments should be shared and form a part of these 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.
The allocated social worker must ensure PEP review meetings take place as scheduled and in the unforeseen circumstances that this needs to be changed that this is evidenced on the social care information system.Second and subsequent PEP's should be co-ordinated alongside the Looked After Review cycle and PEP decisions and recommendations must be available to the Independent Reviewing Officer at the Looked After Review. The Virtual School are involved in developing, reviewing and supporting every Looked After Child's PEP.
The Personal Education Planning Meeting should agree educational priorities and how best to achieve these. Targets should be set and the participants should agree what action they will each undertake to ensure progress and attainment. For eligible children, the Pupil Premium Grant should be used to support required intervention.The Virtual School will quality assure these targets and interventions to ensure high expectation and progress.
If there are any significant proposals which change a child's education arrangements such as a change of provision including a referral to alternative provision or a request for a Education, Health and Care Plan these must be discussed with The Head of the Virtual School who will advise about how to proceed.
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:
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.
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.
Exclusion from school should be a last resort for children who are 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.
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)).
Becoming pregnant is not in itself a reason to stop attending school, nor to cease education.
Where a Looked After young woman becomes pregnant, the allocated social worker must ensure she remains 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 she lives and/or the school she attends.
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.
From 1st September 2014, governing bodes 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 (2014), statutory guidance from the Department for Education.
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 VSH makes appropriate arrangements in place to meet the training needs and support of those responsible for promoting the educational achievement of 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.
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:
Only valid for 48hrs