About the Virtual School in Reading

This section is about our Virtual School and how we can work together to help children looked after and care leavers achieve their educational goals

“Every single moment, of every single day, matters for a child looked after.” 

This is the mantra of the Virtual School. Children looked after, and care levers, often miss experiences enjoyed by their peers so it is our duty and mission to work in partnership with other professionals to create those moments. We must advocate determinedly for their rights and ensure we maximise every single opportunity to help them trust, develop, and grow in all areas of their learning and life.

What is the Virtual School?

The Virtual School exists to raise educational attainment and aspiration and narrow the gap between looked-after children and their peers. Improving life chances and raising awareness of corporate parenting responsibilities is another key aspect of this work. There is absolute commitment from all members of the Virtual School to support children looked after (CLA) through strong advocacy and collaborative engagement.

The Virtual School has a statutory duty to promote the educational achievement of Reading’s children looked after and children previously looked after in line with the DFE statutory guidance Promoting the education of looked-after children and previously looked-after children and The designated teacher for looked-after and previously looked-after children.

 The Virtual School maintains a school roll of all Reading’s children looked after including children living outside of Reading in other local authorities and exists to narrow the gap between children looked after, children previously looked after and their peers.  

Improving life chances and raising awareness of corporate parenting responsibilities is another key aspect of the Virtual Schools work with absolute commitment from all members of the Virtual School.

The Virtual School attends termly personal education plan (PEP) meetings, tracks and monitors children’s attainment, progress, attendance and promotes inclusive and trauma informed practice. It also oversees admission arrangements and offers training, support and guidance to Social Workers, Carers, Designated Teachers, and Schools. 

The Virtual School offers a range of support services and funded interventions for children looked after to broaden horizons, raise aspirations and offer life changing opportunities. Our mission is for professionals to work in partnership and together be determined advocates for our children, to transform lives and shape futures using an holistic, personalised approach to meet the needs of every child looked after.  

The Virtual School also provides advice and information to schools, parents, guardians and social workers for children who are previously looked after or who are supported through child in need or child protection plans.

Reading Virtual School logo

Our priorities

  • To discharge the statutory duty to promote the educational achievement of children looked after and children previously looked after
  • To support children looked after to achieve their educational goals, attain good qualifications, and have a positive, inclusive school experience
  • To improve the educational attainment, attendance and engagement of children looked after through termly, high quality personal education plans (PEPs) and the effective allocation of the pupil premium plus grant (PPPG)
  • To implement the post-16 pupil premium plus programme and the extended duties for children with a social worker.

All children looked after must have a care plan, of which the personal education plan (PEP) is an integral part and should be used by all professionals to support the personalised learning and emotional health and well-being of the child. 

The PEP is a is a statutory requirement for all children looked after from the age of two up to eighteen. The Virtual School quality assures and signs off PEPs each term. PEP meetings are held termly in the young person’s education setting involving the:

  • young person
  • social worker
  • carer
  • designated teacher

Children looked after have the opportunity to share their views and wishes at their termly PEP meetings. They have their own section in their PEP where they can store photographs from activities such as the “Making Memories Project” This project is funded and invites children to choose fun activities with their carers to create special moments and memories. 

The Virtual School has an education plan which schools can access and implement for children who have been previously looked after and are adopted or placed on a special guardianship or child arrangement order in consultation with parents and guardians.

Pupil premium plus funding, or grant (PPPG) is allocated to the Virtual School by the Department for Education to improve outcomes for children looked after and support their learning, and emotional health and well-being. PPPG is discussed, requested and approved through SMART targets in children’s PEPs and is based on a needs-led funding model. 

The Virtual School, designated teachers, social workers and carers discuss and agree appropriate SMART targets at PEP meetings with PPPG requests, which are then submitted to the Virtual School for approval and sign off.  

A range of interventions are funded including:

  • 1:1 tutoring
  • small group work
  • the Letterbox National Reading scheme
  • transition support
  • inclusion support
  • Educational Psychology assessments
  • therapeutic support
  • mentoring
  • educational visits
  • extra-curricular activities and resources such as digital technology and sensory toolkits. 

For children who have been previously looked after and are adopted or placed on a special guardianship or child arrangement order the PPPG is allocated to schools.  

Schools should contact parents at the start of the academic year, and any in-year admissions, to inform them about support and funding available if their child is previously looked after. Adoptive parents and guardians may speak to the designated teacher and confirm their child is previously looked after.  

Schools can then claim the PPPG via the school census and meet with adoptive parents and guardians to discuss how it is being used to benefit their children’s education and well-being.

A key aspect of the Virtual School’s work?is to provide advice, training and guidance to schools, social workers, independent reviewing officers?(IROs) and carers about the statutory requirements relating to a child looked after’s education.  

The Virtual School works with a range of professionals both in and out of borough and offers comprehensive training. Regular PEP training is offered as well as sessions around attendance, attachment and trauma, embedding inclusive practice, Pupil Premium Plus funding, broadening horizons and raising aspiration.

Click here for the Virtual School training schedule.

Advice is offered to support professionals to implement statutory guidance and the Virtual School also provides educational information regarding children who are previously looked after and who are:

  • adopted from care 
  • on special guardianship orders (SGO) 
  • on child arrangement orders (CAO) 

Attendance, Suspensions and Exclusions

There is a direct correlation between missed school and lower attainment at the end of key stage 4. Good attendance is a key element in working to close the attainment gap. While an attendance figure of 90% may not sound very low, research in 2016 showed it reduces a child’s chance of achieving 5+ 5-9 grades at GCSE from 81% to around 57%. A child who averages 80% attendance during their secondary school career effectively misses one whole year of education and significantly reduces their chances of good grades. Even for high-achieving students’ poor attendance has a significant negative impact on their grades. It has been shown that missing just 17 days of school in Year 11 reduces final GCSE grades by one level across all subjects.     

Suspensions and permanent exclusions for children looked after is not an equal punishment to the exclusion of children within their family’s care. Suspensions or permanent exclusion of a child looked after risks not only the loss of education, but also the loss of their home where they are being looked after, for example through fostering, adoption or connected care.

School issues, specifically multiple exclusions, is one of the two most common reasons for placement breakdowns in secondary-aged children. Children looked after are five times more likely to be excluded from education than those residing within their family’s care and it is the most common cause of persistent absence for this group of children.  

As a Virtual School, we understand the individual nature of children and young people’s starting points and acknowledge that for some, a pattern of non-attendance has previously been commonplace. We are working hard to change this narrative.

The attendance of children looked after is monitored daily, with any unexpected absences followed up with the schools and carers, making sure processes are in place so the Virtual School can support children and young people who are at risk of exclusion. For example, using pupil premium plus funding to ensure creative and flexible approaches are used to support inclusion. Attendance and risk of exclusion are key discussions within the personal education plans (PEPS).  

Children with a social worker are around three times more likely to be regularly absent from school and between two to four times more likely to be permanently excluded from school than their peers.  

Through our strategic work to support children with a social worker and children previously looked after, we are raising the profile of this group of children through highlighting their barriers to learning and ways professionals can work with children and families effectively, to increase aspirations, attainment and outcomes in addition to reducing exclusions and improving attendance.

The Virtual School does not work operationally with children with a social worker or children previously looked after or their families. However, we assist professionals who do offer this support by offering advice, guidance and signposting, including bespoke training and representation in professional meetings and consulting in our drop-in clinics. Parents of children previously looked after, can also attend our drop-in clinics for advice, information and signposting.  

Please contact Bianca James in relation to children with a social worker: bianca.james@brighterfuturesforchildren.org.

Please contact Cathy McCarthy in relation to children previously looked after: cathy.mccarthy@brighterfuturesforchildren.org.

We use data to monitor school exclusion and suspension rates so we can develop collaborative strategies alongside schools and professionals to decrease incidents. We believe that all education settings should be inclusive and work relentlessly to ensure children with a social worker and children previously looked after are able to academically progress in stable, nurturing environments.

Further guidance about the processes and teams supporting children and families experiencing suspensions and permanent exclusions can be found here. 

If a child hits 10 or more consecutive unauthorised absences, a child missing education referral should be made as the school has a statutory duty to report this to the local authority.  

The local authority should also be made aware of children on reduced timetables alongside the SEND Case Officer if a child has an EHCP. 

Contact the Children Missing Education team for support, advice and guidance CME@brighterfuturesforchildren.org.

Further attendance and exclusion guidance can be found on the following government information pages:  

Working together to improve school attendance

School suspensions and permanent exclusions

Contact our Virtual School team

The Virtual School is here to support and promote children’s continued education while they are looked after. Please contact us about any queries you wish to discuss for children looked after, previously looked after or children with a social worker.

Hello, my name is Clare, and I am Headteacher of Reading Virtual School. I have a statutory duty to promote the education of children looked after and children previously looked after. My role includes promoting the education of children with a social worker. It is an absolute joy and privilege to support our children and young people on their educational journey from early years through to post-16 and beyond. I am extremely proud of our children and young people’s achievements, resilience, and determination to succeed.

Being a determined advocate is at the heart of the Virtual School’s work, standing up for children’s rights and helping them feel supported in the areas of their education which matter most to them so they can be confident in their ability, and realise their potential and dreams. Before becoming Headteacher in 2010, I worked in a secondary school as a Deputy Headteacher, Designated Teacher and Designated Safeguard Lead. My teaching subject was PE and dance and I love to play all kinds of sport. My passion is horse riding and supporting Newcastle United Football Club as I am a Geordie!

 You can get in touch with me by emailing: clare.houlton@brighterfuturesforchildren.org.

Hello, I’m Sarah, Assistant Headteacher for Secondary and Post-16 at Reading Virtual School. I work to ensure that all Children Looked After are supported to excel in education. My role is to make sure everyone works together to provide the children we support with the right tools to achieve their education goals and aspirations. I started out as an English teacher, before joining the Virtual School and I worked for ten years in a specialist provision as Assistant Head. In my spare time I like to swim, walk and spend time in the countryside.

Contact me at sarah.cross@brighterfuturesforchildren.org

Hello, my name is Matt. I am the Interim Assistant Headteacher for Early Years and Primary children at Reading Virtual School. My role is to make sure that children who are looked after have the best possible experience in school, are well supported and achieve their educational goals. You might see me at your personal education plan (PEP) meeting where I enjoy hearing your views about school and learning. Before joining the Virtual School I worked in primary schools for 20 years so I know what it’s like for you in school. In my spare time I like to cook, go for walks and support Ipswich Town Football Club. 

 You can get in touch with me by emailing matt.bevan@brighterfuturesforchildren.org

I am Lisa, the Education Support Officer for Reading’s Virtual School. I try to make sure that children who are looked after enjoy their education and achieve to their full potential.  The Virtual School subscribes to Letterbox – a national scheme to enhance young people’s experiences in reading and numeracy.  I co-ordinate the Letterbox scheme for Reading. I also attend many personal education plan (PEP) meetings, particularly for Year 6 and Year 7 pupils, to help them have a smooth transition from primary to secondary schools. In the past, I have worked in a special school, the youth service and in a specialist fostering team. In my spare time I enjoy walking and playing tennis.  

You can contact me by emailing lisa.palmer@brighterfuturesforchildren.org

Hello, my name is Rhi and I am the Data, Inclusion and Finance Manager at Reading Virtual School. I help to make sure that adults in school supporting children who are looked after work therapeutically and support our children to have high ambitions for their future. I monitor and challenge attendance and suspensions and also work closely with other teams to make sure children with special educational needs are given the best opportunities. I have always enjoyed working with children and I previously worked as a special needs teacher and an inclusion officer in primary schools. In my spare time I enjoy spending time with my family in the great outdoors! 

You can get in touch with me by emailing rhiannon.begg@brighterfuturesforchildren.org 

Hello, my name is Bianca and I am Assistant Headteacher for Children with a Social Worker at Reading Virtual School. I help make sure adults think BIG when it comes to the children that we support as we know that children can achieve amazing things when everyone is working together! I make sure we are listening to children’s views and putting quality support in place to assist them. I help build a strong network of support so children who have a social worker can make excellent educational progress and achieve their goals. I have always enjoyed working with children and I have previously worked as an English teacher. In my spare time I enjoy Zumba and spending time with my family and pets. I have three cats along with a tortoise named Fela. 

Get in touch with me by emailing bianca.james@brighterfuturesforchildren.org.

Hello, I’m Cathy McCarthy, Education Advisor for children previously looked after and children with a social worker. I am passionate about championing the voices of children in education. I love working with school staff to reflect and problem solve, finding ways to encourage and enthuse each young person to achieve their potential. Before joining the Virtual School I was a primary school teacher, SENDCo and volunteer for SENDIASS.

You can get in touch with me by emailing cathy.mccarthy@brighterfuturesforchildren.org.

Click the button below to go to our Virtual School information page for parents

Information for parents

Success stories from the Virtual School in Reading