Supporting the Social, Emotional and Academic Needs of Looked After Children (Part One)

Last month, more than 220 delegates settled down at their computers for The National Pupil Premium Conference 2021, which was held virtually for the second year in a row due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Across the two days, the audience - including many Headteachers, Pupil Premium Coordinators, SENDCOs, School Business Managers, Support Staff and School Improvement Officers - enjoyed the latest insights, research, and best practice in delivering outstanding Pupil Premium interventions for pupils at primary and secondary levels, including in special schools, to enhance attainment and support improved learning outcomes.

One of the key highlights across the two days was a lively, interactive panel discussion, entitled “Sharing Key Insights for Supporting the Social, Emotional and Academic Needs of Looked After Children”.

Sitting on the panel was Patrick Ward, Virtual School Head for Lewisham, and Incoming Chair of the National Association of Virtual School Heads (NAVSH); Darren Martindale, Service Manager, Vulnerable Learners and Virtual School Head, City of Wolverhampton Council; Andrew Martin, Lead Education Advisor, Secondary Phase, Virtual School, Herefordshire County Council; and Christie Spurling MBE, Founder and CEO of N-Gage. Sitting in the chair for the day was Professor Carol Fuller, Head of the Institute of Education (IoE), University of Reading.


How to best support students with Pupil Premium Plus

The panel got underway with the different speakers highlighting how they best felt students could be supported by Pupil Premium Plus, as the sector tries to cover some of the ground lost to the pandemic.

Patrick explained that Section 31 funding isn’t currently ring-fenced, so you cannot assume it’s necessarily being spent “strategically” – describing the situation as “something of a postcode lottery”. In addition, he added that you cannot assume the Virtual School Headteacher will have sufficient status within the local authority to fulfil that role, and that the funding is getting through to the schools and the young people, largely due to a lack of auditing and accountability processes. He said:

“As National Chair, this forms part of my discussions with the Department for Education (DfE) to make sure these processes and best practice is happening across the country.”

Darren added that terms of Pupil Premium Plus, as Virtual Heads, “we have the luxury of using that in the way we best see fit,” whilst doing something “specific for particular pupils linked to their personal education plans and individual learning targets”.

He explained his organisation is trying to promote a proper response by providing a “good holistic assessment of what their needs might be”. He highlighted the importance of “a bespoke approach to find an individual pupil’s interests and strengths, finding the hook that might re-engage them into education, building emotional resilience, attachment, awareness. These are the kinds of strategies we are trying to promote generally. Pupil Premium Plus does give us more control over how we can support schools in doing that.”

Coming into the discussion, Andrew was keen to stress that the funding must focus on addressing the needs of the child – and that linking it back to educational attainment and progress is fundamental.

“Of course, some children in care will be in a position where they are so disengaged that they are unable to function at the level required to meet academic outcomes in line with national expectations, so therefore using the money to support the ethos of the school is vital, so they are able to be supportive of those children.

“Many children in care are already fundamentally very resilient because of their life experiences, so what they also need is nurture and support to enable them to succeed in education. Therefore, focusing spend on those areas can yield great benefits for those young people,” he concluded.


Offering valuable advice to help previously looked after children

The panel was asked whether they had any good advice for supporting children that have been previously “looked after”.

Patrick was the first speaker to take the microphone:

“In terms of previously looked after children, there’s a growing awareness that many of their needs are going to be similar to the care cohort – you’re ultimately dealing with an inherently traumatised cohort.”

He went on to agree with Andrew’s earlier point that “we know what works” for this group - metacognitive strategies that address the trauma.

“If you don't focus on addressing the trauma they have experienced you're unlikely to have success with content based interventions… Put your energies and your expertise into the metacognition to address the early trauma - that's how you get improved results in maths, for example, not just through more maths tuition.”

Next up was Darren, who also agreed with Andrew’s point about “whole school ethos”.

“We have found it hugely beneficial to invest heavily in metacognitive strategies, in learning to learn, in learning to settle to learn, as it were, promoting attachment awareness and trauma informed practices in school. When you are promoting these types of awareness it absolutely needs to be whole school, and in my view that's all the way to your lunchtime supervisors, to your office staff - everyone on the school premises that has contact with that pupil who may struggle with their emotional regulation, with their emotional wellbeing. The more proactive schools will even do work with parents and carers around their emotional literacy,” he concluded.

Christie explained why it is vital to provide stability and continuity for those pupils in question.

“I am really passionate about ensuring young people are given every opportunity to succeed in school – with exclusion and removal from school being the absolute last resort,” he said. Speaking from personal experience, Christie told the audience that he believes if you start your life being moved around (perhaps through adoption or living at foster homes) the “worst thing” you can do is to remove a child from their learning environment.

“It adds to the trauma, adds to the feeling of rejection, the feeling of not being wanted.”

Andrew agreed with Christie’s “brilliant point”, adding that further rejection makes things “one thousand times worse”. He went on to say that if schools are at “their wit’s end with a particular pupil on the edge of care, or involved social worker,” and therefore considering excluding them, or reducing their timetable, they are likely to be “placed back with the very people that are the cause of many of their difficulties”. He concluded by stating this is why the “nurturing approach” and prioritising “the safety of the child” is absolutely vital.


Part two of the summary from this year’s interactive panel at The National Pupil Premium Conference will be published shortly. To ensure you don’t miss it, please subscribe to the IG Schools blog, here.

You’ll find a plethora of content focusing on Pupil Premium and Pupil Premium Plus, as well as on a host of other hot topics from across the schools sector.


We will also be hosting the Looked After Children and Care Leavers Forum 2021 on the 21-22 September. The online event will provide attendees with the opportunity to explore innovative ways of coordinating care to improve outcomes for children on the edge of care, children in care, and care leavers. View the speaking line-up, browse the full agenda, and reserve your place, here.