Agenda item

Tony Doran, Headteacher - Virtual School Kent, KCC


1.    Mr Doran said he had been the Head teacher of the Virtual School Kent (VSK) since its foundation.  Before that he had been involved in tackling disadvantage and underachievement and had been seconded to the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit as a behaviour expert during the 2008/09 National Behaviour Review.  He said the VSK had been established in 2010 based on a two-year national pilot and the idea was to have either a senior officer or a head teacher in charge of the education of all children in care as if they were in a single school.  The VSK was now the largest virtual school in the country.


2.    The attainment of children in care (CiC) was significantly below the national average in every indicator in 2010 but following a virtual school improvement review CiC were now above the national average in every indicator.   The VSK operated differently across the county depending on both the number of and the needs of the CiCs.  There had been a significant positive improvement in numbers of children in care who were not in employment, education or training with 53% of CiC being considered as NEETs in 2014, 38% in 2015, 17% in 2016 and 13% currently.


3.    The VSK had a good relationship with all schools including academies and provided support for schools which was free at the point of delivery.  The VSK worked closely with schools to develop and support teachers and support teachers as well as developing projects for the children.


4.    In April 2014, the Head of VSK was made responsible for some elements of the Pupil Premium Plus which was designed to close the learning gap and realise the potential of CiC wherever they may live.  In addition from 2015 the Head of the VSK became responsible for the Early Years Pupil Premium.


5.   Mr Doran said that each local authority administered the Pupil Premium differently.  There had been a pilot scheme in West Sussex about 6 years ago in which 100% of the Pupil Premium Plus funding was made available for applications from schools, other local authorities allocated the full amount per pupil and most went half way.  Kent used the first approach in its first year, but some head teachers were reluctant to apply particularly where they had to make applications to several local authorities.  Following a consultation with head teachers it was agreed that £900 would be allocated to a school for each CiC with any additional funding being provided according to the needs of the child following an application from the school.  The VSK scrutinised all applications very carefully to ensure that the proposed intervention would have a positive impact based on evidence and it was rare to refuse an application.  A copy of the application form was attached as Appendix 2 in the reports pack.  No complaints had been received since the introduction of the scheme. 


6.   Mr Doran said the total funding available for the Pupil Premium Plus was based on the number of children that had come into care in the previous twelve months and amounted to £1900 per child.   He also said that the VSK did not hold the Pupil Premium funding for children placed in Kent by other authorities.  The authorities placing children in Kent retained their corporate parenting role and the Pupil Premium Funding allocation. He suggested that other authorities often provided funding to get a child into a school in Kent but there is numerous evidence of cases when their contribution after the point of entry has been extremely limited.


7.   About 5%-7% of Kent children in care were placed outside Kent, most of out of county placements were in Medway and children were usually only placed further afield to access very specialist resources, to meet bail conditions or for other family reasons.  If all London boroughs worked together they had sufficient capacity between them to place all children in care in London, however, about 40%-50% of London boroughs placed children outside their boroughs.


8.   Mr Doran said there was no process for charging schools for advice on best practice or other support and while it would be possible to develop services for sale there were no plans to do so.  Head teachers in Kent valued the VSK as “a real school with real pupils”. 


9.   In response to comments about the extent of the capacity of an individual school to meet the needs of large numbers of CiC, Mr Doran said:


·         Any child placed by an independent fostering agency in Kent would attend a Kent school

·         One of the wards in Thanet was more deprived than Toxteth in Liverpool and 60%-80% of pupils were in receipt of Pupil Premium Plus

·         Any child in placed in foster care has to be in education within 20 days and the VSK worked with the Education Admissions team and used local and national knowledge to ensure the best provision for the child

·         He, Mr Ireland (Corporate Director of Social Care and Health), Mr Carter (Leader of the Council) and others had spoken at numerous conferences, and to individuals, urging other authorities not to place children in Kent districts where there was pressure due to the high numbers of CiC.


10.Mr Doran said that the last report on Pupil Premium Plus set out an overview of spending.  81% had been allocated to schools and 19% retained for county-wide interventions such as paired reading which had been successful in raising the reading age of those involved by a minimum of ten months.   Some funding was also retained for educational support officers (i.e. high level teaching assistants who were paid for term time only).  It was fortunate that four of the educational support officers were fully qualified teachers and they tended to specialise in building confidence of pupils in Maths and English.


11.Mr Doran also said that it would be very difficult to reduce funding to schools especially as the levels of challenging behaviour and special educational needs schools were expected to deal with before the pupils could be referred to a PRU or get a statement of educational need had increased in complexity.  He said the Leigh Academy had introduced a “Strive to Thrive” programme based on cognitive behaviour therapy to improve the mental health of CiCs which in turn had resulted in improvements in the school’s performance.


12.In response to a question about accountability, Mr Doran said that schools had to publish information about how they had used Pupil Premium funding but the Pupil Premium Plus funding was for explicitly for the child.  The VSK worked with schools to advise on appropriate interventions, the development of educational plans and to ensure value for money.


13.In response to a question about any changes he would like to see Mr Doran said:


·         The Early Years Pupil Premium Plus was very welcome and that he would like to see something similar for post -16s particularly as 85% of CiC nationally did not achieve five GCSEs.  In Kent, colleges were resistant to taking young people without a GCSE in Maths and English so bespoke courses had to be developed;

·         Ring-fencing of the funds for the explicit benefit of children was essential to avoid any risk that it would be used to support schools’ budget to the detriment of the children

·         Changes in education such as the ending of modular GCSEs and course work, had had a detrimental impact on vulnerable 


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