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Professor Judy Sebba of Oxford University's Department of Education and Director of the Rees Centre worked with Virtual School Headteachers to improve educational progress of children in care.

Improving the life chances of children in care by improving education through research

Image credit: Shutterstock

Children in care substantially underperform in school compared to the general school population.  As adults, they have a 22% unemployment rate, and 27% of those in prison have been in care. Conversely, education has been identified as a protective factor in the outcomes of children in care. Education service providers are, however, struggling to reduce the achievement gap between children in care and the general school population. Better evidence about interventions found to improve educational progress of children in care is needed, as are interpretations of such evidence for service providers, and Professor Judy Sebba, Director of the Rees Centre at the University of Oxford, aims to do just that.

Under the Children and Families Act of 2014, every local authority must have a Virtual School Headteacher (VSH). A Virtual School Headteacher is someone appointed by the local authority to promote the educational achievement of children looked after by that council. Those children are on a ‘virtual’ school roll, even though they are physically spread across the schools in that area. The idea is that each local council employs an experienced teacher to oversee the educational progress of all children under the care of that local authority.

 In this ESRC-funded project, two visiting practitioners, Dr Alun Rees, former Headteacher of the Virtual School Leeds and a member of the National Steering Group, and Mrs Lucy Wawrzyniak, Deputy Headteacher of the Oxfordshire Virtual School for Looked After Children and Care Leavers 0-25 were brought to the Rees Centre. Among other projects, they worked with the Department for Education (DfE) on the Virtual School Heads’ Handbook to ensure it reflected Rees Centre research findings.  They also developed ‘knowledge claims’ (statements based on robust evidence) based on the Rees Centre research, which managers in the services and schools can now use to review their practices and measure their outcomes. The Visiting Practitioners have also developed the Rees Centre’s understanding of the system that they are trying to influence, and have increased the credibility of the Rees Centre with key organisations that can benefit from their research.

This ESRC IAA-funded project has had, and will hopefully continue to have, benefits for national and local providers of educational services for children in care by supporting teachers, foster carers, schools, social workers, local authorities and the DfE to improve the lives of young people in care for years to come.

This project was funded by Oxford's ESRC Impact Acceleration Account.