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Virtual schools in the UK and the awarding of ‘pupil premium’ for disadvantaged children

Since April 2014, virtual school heads have been tasked with the job of allocating pupil premium – additional funding given to publicly funded schools in England to raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils and close the gap between them and their peers, wrties Stephen Clarke.

Disadvantaged children who are also in care, known as looked-after children, qualify for a further £1,000 (around Euro 1,230) or £1,900 in total.

The latest figures show that only 15.3% of looked-after children achieved five or more A* to C grades at General Certificate of Secondary Education level or its equivalent, including English and maths, compared to 58% for children not in care.

For this reason it is crucial that virtual school heads are kept up to date with data about looked-after children so they can more accurately award pupil premium to the correct school. Additionally, up-to-date information allows for the implementation of early intervention strategies should there be a drop in grades or exclusions.

Local authorities have a statutory duty under The Children Act 2004 to collect data and report on the attendance and attainment of looked-after children educated inside and outside the local authority.

Virtual school heads work with looked-after children and, in some cases, young people in post-16 provision, across a number of schools, to raise educational attainment and improve attendance and educational stability.

Managing and tracking this data can be difficult for many local authorities as children in care are more likely to move schools or areas than children not in care.

While steps are being taken to improve the sharing of information within local authority departments, progress is slow due to old legacy IT systems. Local councils responsible for reporting on the attendance of looked-after children often manually call all the schools with looked-after children in and outside the local authority three times a year to double check that the data they have is correct. A report is then created, based on information drawn from numerous spreadsheets and formats sent from the schools.

This process requires a lot of administration and takes time, meaning that the data is quickly out of date. A good data management system can provide data in real-time and automatically capture information from the school’s information management system and send it directly to the local authority. For those schools or organisations that do not have an information management system, manual phone calls can be made and the information fed into the same software.

This ensures that pupil premium is always sent to the correct school and local authorities can immediately implement early intervention strategies if there is a problem with attendance or behaviour. Mandatory reports for Ofsted (the UK Office for Standards in Education) and the Department for Education can be created at the touch of a button.

Good data management can help ensure the safeguarding and educational attainment of looked after children.  Real-time data on the attendance, grades and behavior of looked-after children can help virtual school heads readily identify issues and implement early intervention strategies designed to maximize the educational outcomes for those concerned.

Stephen Clarke is Managing Director of Contact Group and developer of Looked After Call, which helps local authorities monitor the school attendance, attainment and progress of looked-after children. 

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