1. Mr Doran introduced the report and summarised key areas of performance, including the good performance of Kent’s Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4 children in care cohorts compared to national average, decreasing numbers of NEETs, successful university entries, the excellent work which continued to be done on participation and engagement by the VSK apprentices as ambassadors of children in care, and to tackle the stigma of being in care, and the Fostering Partnership award won in 2018. He also set out the priorities for 2018/19. Mr Doran and Ms Hammond then responded to comments and questions from the Panel, including the following;
a) the report and the performance it set out were welcomed as evidence that VSK was a good model and was working well. Concern was expressed that the ambitions set out for the development of the 0-25 service should not overstretch the service and risk diluting the successes achieved. Mr Doran said the VSK would continue to drive improvement in all its services, and reassured the Panel that multi-issue working would not dilute the quality of any one service. He outlined the ways in which the VSK had successfully expanded its range of work since its inception in 2010, to make sure that every child in care would have the best support and education possible to help them achieve and be the best they could be. Ms Hammond added that VSK worked to support all children in care to achieve their educational potential, regardless of the age at which they came into care. Many young people came into care in their mid-teens and had the added challenge of settling into school quickly and taking key examinations only a short time afterwards. Many achieved good grades despite having this challenge. She undertook to supply the Panel with information about the age at which young people entered care, so their educational attainment could be set against this context;
b) the work to tackle the stigma of being in care was supported, and Mr Doran explained that there needed to be a balance between giving children in care the time and support they needed to settle into a new placement and school and have the required reviews without drawing unnecessary attention to their care status. Ms Dunstan added that the rent guarantor scheme could help to address stigma for care leavers trying to find accommodation as it would help prospective landlords to overcome their prejudice about trusting care leavers to be good, reliable tenants. The VSK Participation Support Workers were also visiting schools to give talks about tackling stigma. The Chairman added that young people could face stigma for a number of other reasons, such as their religion or sexuality, so needed to be equipped with the resilience and life skills to cope with this;
c) concern was expressed about the increasing number of children overall, not just those in care, who had Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs). Mr Doran advised that, although the number of children in care with EHCPs had always been higher, compared to their peers, the rate in the general population had increased by 40% while the rate among children in care had increased by only 1.1%;
d) a foster carer commented that the engagement and participation support of the VSK could be the only constant element in a young person’s life if they were moving between a number of placements and schools; and
e) the Chairman asked a foster care if young people with disabilities were included sufficiently in engagement and participation events and was advised that any children in care applying for a Kent sports bursary would automatically be eligible for it as part of their personal education plan (PEP). This could give children who were less academic the opportunity to develop other skills and excel in other fields.
2. It was RESOLVED that:-
a) the impact of the Virtual School in relation to its performance be noted and the children and young people it supported be congratulated on their achievements and successes; and
b) the priorities of the Virtual School for 2018-19 be endorsed.