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Durham County Council

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The Durham Virtual School - supporting the education of looked after children


Our Virtual School gives educational support to looked after children and young people up to the age of 24 years.

What is a Virtual School?

The Virtual School does not exist in real terms as a building, and children and young people do not attend. It is a service provided by dedicated professionals within our Children and Young People's Services who work to promote and support the education of looked after children and young people to help raise academic achievement and remove barriers to learning.  

We work with real schools and others to make sure that all children and young people enjoy school, that they are fully engaged as learners and that they are supported in overcoming any challenges or barriers that they may have.

Find out more about what the Virtual School do in our document What does the Durham Virtual School do? (PDF, 34kb).

The Virtual School Head

All Virtual Schools have a Virtual School Head (VSH).  The role of the VSH is to:

  • raise the educational attainment of looked after children
  • champions the educational needs of looked after children and young people
  • make sure all looked after children have a quality Personal Education Plan (PEP)
  • bring together and analyse data on looked after children to monitor progress and attainment
  • manage, agree and monitor the use of Pupil Premium Plus funding to improve the education outcomes for looked after children
  • work with schools and education providers to develop appropriate support and ensure access to full-time education
  • remove barriers that are hindering outcomes for looked after children
  • to work with and train Designated Teachers and Designated Governors, parents/carers and Social Workers
  • work with Virtual Head Teachers on a regional basis to resolve issues between schools and authorities to ensure all looked after children and young people have access to education

Why do looked after children need extra support?

Many looked after children perform well at school however, from a national perspective, the educational achievement of looked after children is below that of all children.  This can be because of:

  • instability in their home life before entering care
  • disruptive schooling or lots of school moves impacting on knowledge and skills gaps
  • limited help and support being made available before they entered care
  • carers may not feel skilled enough to provide sufficient support for learning
  • emotional, mental and physical health needs that haven't been met which impact on their engagement in learning