The virtual school aims to decrease the educational gap between children in care and other children. Our aim is to ensure young people in Rochdale’s care achieve their full potential in education. Many cared for children don't do as well as their classmates at school, many finish school with fewer qualifications and far fewer go on to further education or university.
To help improve their educational chances and outcomes, we treat them as if they were in a virtual school with their own virtual head teacher. This is in addition to attending their own school, nursery or college.
As well as supporting parents and carers, the virtual school also supports teachers, social workers, colleges and nurseries. We can give them ideas and suggestions and ensure that the right questions are asked about how to improve the education of a child in care.
Working with schools to champion looked after children
The virtual school works with schools, colleges and nurseries to make sure the targets for looked after children are challenging enough, their results and attendance improve and the number of exclusions go down. The virtual school is the champion for looked after children by:
- Helping head teachers and schools to look for ways to overcome any barriers the cared for children may face
- Ensuring that every cared for child has a Personal Education Plan or ‘PEP’, which looks in detail at their individual needs
- Working closely with all those involved in the child's education, giving them the support and help they need - for example, training for teachers, social workers and carers
The exclusion of cared for children should be avoided where possible and schools should only ever exclude a child as a last resort. The Fair Access Team monitors all exclusions and can offer support and advice to schools. They can be contacted at
Annual report about the virtual school
Our annual report includes a summary of our work and findings, statistics about the virtual school and the progress of our cared for children and more.
Please note: references to individual children and schools have been removed from the report.
COVID-19 support for parents and carers
This has been a really challenging time for everyone, children included. We’ve had lots to cope with such as sudden changes to routine. Here's some information and advice on a range of COVID-19 topics which might help you.
Personal Education Plan (PEP)
The aim of the Personal Education Plan (PEP) is to ensure that everyone is doing all that they should and can do, to support a child in care in achieving educational success. The young person, carers, school, social worker or others who may be involved in their education all have an input into the PEP. If a PEP meeting is in school time, we do our best not to disrupt the child's lessons.
The PEP will set the young person's targets which are reviewed at the beginning of each school term. The plan must also include how the Pupil Premium Plus funding will be used. If needed, someone from the virtual school can attend the PEP meeting with you.
Pupil Premium Plus funding
To raise the educational outcomes of children in care, the government gives us extra money called the Pupil Premium Plus. Pupil Premium Plus is paid directly to the school in the middle of the year. The second payment is made once the virtual school has seen the Personal Education Plan which will include details of how the extra money will be spent. A small amount of Pupil Premium Plus is used by the virtual school to encourage creative ideas that will help schools meet the needs of children in care.
Ideas for using Pupil Premium Plus
Our regular monitoring of how PP+ is used in our schools shows it's most frequently used to provide additional support outside the classroom. This is often done through 1:1 interventions, curriculum related trips and additional resources, such as ICT equipment.
Here are some further ideas for how local schools have used this funding:
1:1 tuition or mentoring tailored to the pupil’s individual needs and strengths to boost educational outcomes, with regular reviews of progress. There is a lot of choice of organisations that can provide this support for example Tutor Trust (not for profit), Tute, Randstad, UK Military Mentors. The Virtual School can offer advice on some of these.
Support staff. Transitional times, such as moving between schools, key stages or even between lessons, can be particularly difficult for some children to handle so they need to be given extra preparation for this. Extra staff time may be needed to go through the timetable with them at the start of each day.
Enrichment activities. Use the PEP to identify a child’s particular interest, if they are gifted in a particular area or want to follow a career path. You can then pay for activities in these areas, such as music lessons or sports.
Capacity-building projects with a therapeutic focus. This could be outdoor activity groups that use a therapeutic approach to improve children’s emotional wellbeing, build confidence, resilience and social skills.
Letterbox club, supporting reading and maths. 6 monthly parcel deliveries of reading and maths materials to help and encourage reading, support maths and encourage relationship building - around the sharing aspect of the parcel. Every year, from the start of May until October, a parcel is delivered to Rochdale’s Cared for Children in Year 5 and Year7. More recently, the Virtual School introduced the delivery of Reception parcels for Early Years Cared for Children too.
Beanstalk, supporting children to improve their reading. Volunteers support children with their reading to build their confidence through focusing on their individual interests.
Laptops for all looked after children in year 10 and 11. Each autumn term, we give 14 and 15 year olds a new laptop as they enter year 10 which is theirs to keep. We prioritise this age group as they need access to a computer to support their education as they approach the last 2 years at high school.
National advice and guidance on using Pupil Premium Plus (486kb pdf)
Support for Previously Looked After Children (PLAC)
We offer support and guidance for parents of previously looked after children. This includes children who've been adopted, have a special guardianship order or a child arrangement order.
What works in education for children who have social workers
We know that children and young people who have had a social worker have, on average, lower attainment than their peers. However, we don't have a good sense of what works to improve educational outcomes for this group.
The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has analysed data from the National Pupil Database and 63 randomised controlled trials (RCTs) to look at the impacts of educational interventions on the attainment of young people who have had a social worker.
Videos on building resilience and strengthening relationships through play
View our videos for carers around building resilience and strengthening relationships through play.
Thursday, 11 June 2020 - supporting play and resilience part 7 on YouTube (8 mins 41 secs) - welcome to the final video in our series on play and resilience. This video brings together some of the information from previous sessions, showing how closely play and resilience are linked and thinking through which play activities in particular are useful in building resilience.
Thursday, 4 June 2020 - supporting play and resilience part 6 on YouTube (10mins 58secs) - in this video we continue our focus on resilience. Dr Kenneth Ginsberg, a Professor of Paediatrics at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and University of Pennsylvania, has identified ‘The 7 C’s of Resilience’. We will briefly think about each ‘C’ in turn, what they mean and how you can support the children and young people in your care to develop their skills in that area.
Thursday, 28 May 2020 - supporting play and resilience part 5 on YouTube (8mins 50secs) - our topic moves from play to resilience. We will provide a definition of resilience and talk about the characteristics shown by more and less resilient children. Resilience is a quality that can be developed throughout our lives and we will discuss some of the ways in which research his identified we can support children to become more resilient individuals.
Thursday, 21 May 2020 - supporting play and resilience part 4 on YouTube (11mins 58secs) - in this video we think about the importance of laughter for children’s development. We all enjoy, and often feel better, after laughing with our friends and family. The video will briefly discuss the chemicals in our brain that help us to feel good and the need for us to have positive interactions for them to be fully activated. We will also consider some aspects of ‘Attachment Play’, from a book by Aletha Solter. 4 of the 9 types of attachment play will be discussed, with a focus on developing positive attachments between children and those who are caring for them.
Thursday, 14 May 2020 - supporting play and resilience part 3 on YouTube (9mins 18secs) - this video considers how to create a rich play environment and the different types of play your child might enjoy. Dr David Whitebread from Cambridge University has split play into 5 main areas; we will discuss each type of play briefly and provide you with a few activity ideas in each section to suit all ages of children and young people.
Thursday, 7 May 2020 - supporting play and resilience part 2 on YouTube (9mins 27secs) - this video discusses ‘loose parts play’ which research has identified as a key way to support children’s development. This just means playing with ‘stuff’; any odds and ends that you find around your home can be used to spark your children’s imagination, creativity, resilience and problem solving skills. The video will also discuss the benefits of play in a bit more detail.
'We Care' - a film that gives a voice to Rochdale's cared for children
We sometimes hear from our Cared for Children that they are being bullied, stereotyped or don’t get their voices heard. To answer these criticisms, we turned to our own Rochdale Cared for Children and asked them to tell us a little bit about their stories.
The result is this film, ‘We Care’. The tremendous amount of time, effort and care that they put into this film is testimony to both their own commitment and their strength of feeling about wanting to be heard. ‘We Care’ sends a strong message to all of us. To listen, to really hear and to treat young people who are in care for whom they are – each an individual, defined, not by us, by themselves, for themselves; each with a past story; many, many strengths; and also bright futures ahead.