It is not a school in the traditional sense, but Walsall’s Virtual School provides all the same nurturing, support and opportunities for children to develop as any other school.
The Virtual School provides support to looked after children as well as training for their foster carers, social workers and teachers to ensure that looked after children are able to make the most of their education. It does not exist in real terms as a building; pupils attend their school while getting extra support from the Virtual School in the form of various projects and activities based around the needs of the children.
The school is led by a Head teacher who is responsible for planning projects, developing the work of the school and making sure the school is delivering the projects they’ve been asked to set up. The Virtual School works together in partnership with schools and other agencies such as Children Social Care, Family Placements and Health as well as out of borough schools to support the education of looked after children and vulnerable children. Key workers in the Virtual School are responsible for monitoring the progress and attainment of looked after children in specific year groups. The Virtual School has specific targets to reach around supporting children’s achievements and their attendance.
A range of exciting programmes have been developed throughout the borough tailored to the needs of looked after children and vulnerable children.
An early years programme has been developed in partnership with foster carers which is designed to encourage learning at home and to involve carers in learning with the children. Selected books along with project worksheets and materials are sent out at intervals of between six to eight weeks to looked after children in nursery and reception.
The Virtual School is supported by a number of Walsall schools to provide a range of other additional projects to support looked after children. Leamore Primary School host a weekly project in their ICT suite for looked after boys who attend primary schools in Walsall. The boys get the opportunity to work in small groups on problem solving in literacy and numeracy activities.
Queen Mary’s High School had provided a similar programme for girls for the last 3 years with a member of staff working with the girls on modern languages, art, science, forensic science, story telling, drama and computer animation sessions.
All these activities encourage problem solving as a team and social interaction so that all the children, regardless of ability are confident to offer ideas and work on tasks together. This in turn fosters a real sense of belonging in the group.
The children have grown in confidence, developed their social and interpersonal skills and raised their self –esteem and aspirations. They are eager to do well at school and achieve at a higher level.
Councillor Rachel Andrew, portfolio holder for Children’s Services at Walsall Council Coalition said: “The work of the Virtual School is to be celebrated.
“A good education is the key to success in life.
“It is vital that all children are given whatever support they need to get the best education possible.
“This can be even more of a challenge for looked after children and I applaud the Virtual School for the support and guidance they give to the vulnerable children and young people of Walsall.”
Karen Dainty Head teacher of the Virtual School for looked after children said, “We all want the best for our children and these are some examples of the fabulous work that is being carried out in Walsall.
“Education can be creative, fun and interactive and this is reflected in the work that is carried out in supporting the education of our looked after children.”