Fostering In Gloucestershire
3rd December 2019
In this blog post, Rachel Eperjesi (Academic Course Leader for School Direct PGCE Primary, School of Education and Humanities) interviews Jane Featherstone (Head of The Virtual School, Gloucestershire) and Leigh Marchant, who is part of the Fostering Recruitment Team for Gloucestershire County Council.
Rachel: It’s great to see you both. Thank you so much for giving up the time to talk to me today. Jane, please can we start with a question that I know many of our student teachers would like to ask – what exactly is a ‘Virtual School’?
Jane: Virtual schools are a statutory service, set up to support and challenge everyone involved in the education of children who are in care. It’s really important to note that it does not replace school or any other educational provision. People can find out more about us by visiting our website: https://www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/vschool/
Rachel: Thanks, I think that is really helpful for our student teachers to understand that The Virtual School is not a place that children in care attend or that they access online, but that you work with the schools that children in care are enrolled in, with a focus on educational outcomes. Can you tell us a little more about why the service is needed?
Jane: Absolutely. There is a wealth of data available which highlights that attainment outcomes for children in care are significantly lower than outcomes for their peers. For example, 25% of children in care in Gloucestershire achieved the expected standard at the end of key Stage Two, compared to 62% of all children in Gloucestershire. 13% of our children in care achieved a Grade 4+ in English and maths at GCSE, compared to 66% of all children in Gloucestershire.
Rachel: That is a very significant gap. I also read somewhere that children in care are more likely to go to prison than to University – is that true?
Jane: Yes, sadly, it is. Children in care are four times more likely than their peers to experience a mental health issue and three times more likely than their peers to be excluded from school. High quality education can make the difference and improve the lives of these children, both now and in the future, and that is where The Virtual School comes in.
Rachel: So what it is that The Virtual School does with children in care, their carers and their schools?
Jane: All children in care have a Personal Education Plan (PEP), with targets to raise their attainment. We play a key role in developing, monitoring and reviewing these regularly, to ensure that children’s needs are being recognised and met. We monitor children’s attendance and progress. We work with schools to plan targeted interventions and we offer support to schools to enable them to maximise their impact on the progress of this vulnerable group of learners.
Rachel: Thank you, Jane; that is really helpful. Roughly how many children are in care in Gloucestershire?
Leigh: We currently have around 700 children in care in Gloucestershire.
Rachel: That is more than I expected…
Leigh: Yes, that surprises a lot of people and the numbers are increasing every year. I am part of the Fostering Recruitment Team and the role played by foster carers is absolutely crucial to our children in care. Supporting and encouraging their education is one important aspect, and so we work closely with The Virtual School, but foster carers provide so much more than that.
Rachel: Do we have enough foster carers in Gloucestershire to meet the needs of children in care?
Leigh: We don’t and we need more. For most of our children in care, placement with a foster family is preferable to being in a residential unit. At a time when they have already experienced significant upheaval (and many have also experienced neglect and/or abuse), to be able to stay within Gloucestershire, to be able to stay at their current school, so that they have some stability in their lives, can make a massive difference for many children in care; at the moment, we don’t have enough foster carers to achieve that for every child who would benefit.
Rachel: Are there different types of foster care placement?
Leigh: Absolutely. There is emergency fostering, which provides a place for a child to go immediately, whatever time of the day or night. There is respite fostering, which provides regular, short term care to give parents and carers a break. There is short term fostering, which can be anything from a few days to a couple of years. Finally, there is long term fostering, which provides a placement for a child in care until they are ready to live independently.
Rachel: If people are interested in exploring the possibility of becoming a foster carer, what should they do?
Leigh: We have a wealth of information available on our website, https://www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/fostering/, and people can contact us via that link. It includes a list of FAQs to try to bust some of the myths that surround fostering, as there are lots of people who assume they would not be eligible, but absolutely would be. We also run regular information sessions, so people can come along, find out a little more and have the opportunity to ask their questions in person.
Rachel: Thank you both. The work that you do is hugely important for some of the most vulnerable children in our county; it is good to be able to raise other people’s awareness of what you do and how they could help.