Virtual school helps children in care

HUNDREDS of children in care in Norfolk have been given hope of a bright future after their exam results soared in the wake of them being enrolled in a “virtual” school.

HUNDREDS of children in care in Norfolk have been given hope of a bright future after their exam results soared in the wake of them being enrolled in a “virtual” school.

The virtual school was set up in Norfolk in 2005, but it was given added impetus in 2007 when the county was chosen by the government as one of 11 pilot areas for the idea.

Now, two years after the 840 youngsters were put under a single “headteacher” and given additional support and tuition, the youngsters have taken a giant leap forward.

Among the improvements for the children in care from 2004 to 2008 are:

Absence has fallen from 15.1pc in 2004 to 7.1pc last year (nationally, it has risen from 12.3pc to 13pc).

The percentage of youngsters getting the target levels in key stage one, two and three tests has increased across the board in English and maths - including from 26.3pc to 53pc in key stage two English and 18.2pc to 41pc in key stage three English.

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The percentage of 16-year-olds getting the benchmark five or more A*-C GCSE improved from 5.1pc to 14pc.

Education chiefs are now determined to narrow the gap on the Norfolk average for all children, for while the results for looked-after children have improved, the county mark has gone up at a more rapid rate.

Speaking before last week's Education Matters conference at the John Innes Centre, near Norwich, director of children's services Lisa Christensen said: “Historically, children in public care have, as a group, had poor experiences of school and unacceptably low levels of attainment.

“For many, early failure of educational support and provision has contributed to social exclusion later in life.”

She said the virtual school was the “cornerstone” of Norfolk County Council's strategy to raise achievement and aspirations among children in care.

She talked up the results so far, but said: “The gap between where we are now and where we need to be will only be narrowed further by determined action from us all.”

The “school's” headteacher is Terry Cook, while the governing body is chaired by another senior officer in children's services, Malcolm Griffiths.

They explained that the progress of all children in care - spread across more than 200 schools - was now being analysed collectively by staff to ensure additional support where required.

The pilot projects end this year, but their success has ensured their survival because the government has now made virtual schools a part of its policy.

In Norfolk, where there are plans for it to grow and thrive, the pilot has seen all children in care given free books and their own laptops.

Mr Cook said 300 teachers had been trained to offer school support to children in care, while all services with any connection to children were being urged to work together.

He said: “We are asking them, what can they do to help these children? They are our children and we have a responsibility to give them the best chances in life.”

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