Virtual School For Children In Care

CAMBRIDGESHIRE’S newest school has no buildings, just 13 hugely experienced teachers – many of them former heads – and 437 pupils who already attend other schools. The pupils are selected not on the basis of their ability, their faith or their parents’ wealth, but on the basis of the youngsters’ misfortune.

The Cambridgeshire Community College is one of the country’s first “virtual schools”, the latest tool in the county’s determination to reverse the disadvantage of being taken into care.

Children become looked after by local authorities for a variety of reasons, but all of them are traumatic and most seriously disruptive of their education.

“Research tells us that in the UK fewer than 10 per cent of children in care are likely to get five good GCSEs, compared with 56 per cent of the general population,” Sue Hains, the college’s “virtual head” said at the school’s launch last evening (Tuesday) at the historic Hinchingbrooke House in Huntingdon.

Within two years of leaving local authority care – they usually cease to be looked after at the age of 16 – half of them are likely to be unemployed, 35 per cent of the girls will be mothers, 20 per cent will be homeless, and half of all prisoners under the age of 25 will have been in care at some time in their lives.

“We are their corporate parents, and we need to do that bit more for them,” Mrs Hains told The Hunts Post.

Cambridgeshire was one of the first education authorities in the country to set up a team of very experienced teachers to provide educational support for looked-after children. It is that 13-strong team that provides the virtual teaching staff for 182 of the county’s children aged from three to 16 years in Cambridgeshire schools, 159 in other authorities’ schools, and 96 from other authorities in Cambridgeshire schools.

The ESLAC team’s task is to raise education standards and exam success, challenge and support schools, social care and the local authority, and create and deliver training programmes.

The virtual school has three elements, called track, educate and communicate. Track is a secure database to which no one other than Mrs Haines and her two deputy managers have full access.

Educate is a system that gives youngsters and their carers a kind of dedicated on-line lending service of educational materials.

When Eslac teachers visit children in schools, they identify gaps in their schooling and suggest how they can be overcome. The virtual school means additional material can be available for them and their carers on line at home, so that what they have missed does not cause embarrassment or the risk of teasing in schools, Mrs Hains said.

The “communicate” element of the school enables secure access to information about each child to be available only to adults who need it, initially teachers and foster parents and in due course other professionals, such as relevant social workers.

“That’s particularly important when children are placed in another authority,” she explained. “It’s a secure way of communicating with schools and carers.”

Cambridgeshire County Council’s cabinet member for children, Cllr Martin Curtis, said: “The virtual school will enhance the service we already provide to looked-after children, and will enable them to thrive and achieve their full potential with even greater monitoring and support from teachers.