New guidance requires schools and local authorities to work more closely together to promote the achievement of looked after children. Hayley Roberts and Sara Erwin-Jones examine the implications for schools

Narrowing the gap: improving educational outcomes for looked after children
In recognition of the gap between the educational achievement of looked after children (LAC) and other children, local authorities and schools have now been given more rigorous duties to promote the achievement of LAC. Updated statutory guidance on Promoting the Educational Achievement of Looked After Children (‘the Guidance’) was published in March 2010 to assist schools and LAs in carrying out these duties. In this article we consider the Guidance, its impact on LAs and schools and how it furthers the national strategy to improve educational outcomes for LAC.

Who are LAC?
Children are looked after by a local authority (LA) when they are the subject of a care order and/or being provided with accommodation (foster placement or children’s home) by the LA.

What obligations do schools have to achieve improved educational outcomes for LAC?
Schools must set statutory annual targets for academic achievement by 2011 for all LAC at Key Stages 2 and 4 to help narrow the gap between LAC and other children’s educational achievement. At a strategic level, local authorities must drive improvements by employing a virtual school head (VSH) and at a local level all maintained schools must have a Designated Teacher (DT). At both levels the VSH and DT’s function is to promote the education of LAC by monitoring their achievement and progress and championing their needs. Their cooperation is fundamental to implementing the national strategy. A virtual toolkit published in March contains tips on how a VSH can ensure they discharge their legal duty to promote educational achievement of LAC.

What does the Guidance cover?
The Guidance has been updated to take into account legislative changes, including the new laws on admissions and details of teachers’ new duties. The purpose of the Guidance is:

  • to help LAs understand and discharge their duty as ‘corporate parents’ of LAC
  • to promote and facilitate co-operation between LAs and schools.

The Guidance splits broadly into two parts:

  1. Strategic planning and accountability
  2. Effective implementation of the duty

What steps should schools take to ensure strategic planning and accountability?
The Children’s Trust Board (Children and Young People’s Plan) (England) Regulations 2010 require partners at a strategic level, as well as those who have day-to-day contact with LAC (eg carers, social workers, teachers and GPs), to cooperate and get involved with preparing and monitoring a children and young people’s plan (CYPP). A CYPP must include:

  • consultation with all relevant partners
  • a needs assessment
  • details on how to achieve LAC’s statutory educational targets
  • details of available resources and how costs of these will be met
  • details of schools tailored services for LAC.

And how does the Guidance recommend that the duty is effectively implemented?
Schools are expected to liaise closely with LAs’ lead member for children’s services (LM) to help them discharge their statutory duties. This relationship will benefit LAC as their progress will be more closely monitored and exchange of information will be facilitated. It is anticipated that as a result better decisions will made about LAC’s care. The relationship between the LM and LAC is intended to mirror that of a parent and child – the LM is expected to attend parents’ evenings and awards ceremonies, and to bestow praise and encouragement. They should be interested in the achievements of LAC in the broadest sense, including what they do in their leisure time.

LAs are expected to communicate with LAC and to take account of their views and identify their educational needs, reflecting these in their care plans. The LA and the school have a joint responsibility to produce a high-quality, tailored Personal Education Plan (PEP). This must be a comprehensive record of the child’s experience, progress and achievement and be reviewed regularly and evolve with LAC’s progress.

This seems to require the LA and schools to work closely together. What should the school expect from the LA?
It is clear that the government expects schools to take a proactive approach to cooperating with LAs when discharging these duties and LAs and schools will effectively be working in partnership. Both schools and LAs should therefore work together to:

  • ensure that up-to-date, high-quality PEPs for LAC are provided on admission and updated during the course of a child’s education
  • give suitable training for DTs
  • establish and maintain a protocol for sharing relevant information about care placements and education.

However, the LA needs to:

  • ensure schools are aware of their duties and the key reasons why LAC underachieve
  • ensure the Guidance is circulated amongst school governors and teachers
  • Identify when LAC are eligible for personal education allowances and are able to access one-to-one tuition where it is necessary
  • take all possible steps to avoid disrupting LACs education by finding appropriate placements and providing school transport to help them stay in their school
  • provide schools with specific information about a LAC.

What should a school’s approach be to LAC in relation to key decisions such as admissions and exclusions?
Highest priority must be given to LAC in the over-subscription criteria in normal admission arrangements. Outside normal admissions, a maintained school must admit an LAC if requested to do so.

In terms of exclusions, schools should be especially sensitive and try by every means possible to maintain an LAC in school.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in April 2010

About the author: Hayley Roberts and Sara Erwin-Jones are lawyers at Browne Jacobson. To find out more about the legal services Browne Jacobson provides in the education sector and to visit their website, please follow this link