'Virtual headteacher' for young in care

STEVE DOWNES The exam attainment and wellbeing of hundreds of children in care in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire could be "transformed" by a radical scheme to give them their own "virtual" headteacher.

STEVE DOWNES

The exam attainment and wellbeing of hundreds of children in care in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire could be "transformed" by a radical scheme to give them their own "virtual" headteacher.

The two counties are among 11 areas chosen to pilot the scheme, which will see a senior education official appointed as head for the looked-after children all over the county.

The official, who could be a retired headteacher or current senior teacher with experience of supporting vulnerable children, will be responsible for improving educational achievement.

Norfolk is already a few steps ahead, having establish-ed the virtual school, set up a governing body and appointed Terry Cook as its head.

Mr Cook, head of school performance, organisation and inclusion at Norfolk County Council, said the money for the pilot project would enable the virtual school scheme to "move ahead swiftly".

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He said: "We hope it will impact on the achievement of looked-after children, improve their school attendance and help groups of children to access activities."

The successful bid comes a month after the EDP revealed a picture of poor exam results, high levels of substance misuse and criminal behaviour among Norfolk's 800-plus children in care.

Among the figures were:

11pc of children looked after for a year or more missed 25-plus school days in 2005-6;

11pc of 16-year-olds got the benchmark five A*-C GCSEs, compared with 55.4pc across the county;

Fifty children over 10, or 12pc of those in care, were cautioned for, or convicted of, criminal behaviour.

Education bosses will be hoping that the virtual headteacher will be able to improve those figures, and give children in care a brighter future.

The pilots, chosen by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), will run in Bournemouth, Cambridge-shire, Dudley, Gateshead, Greenwich, Merton, Norfolk, Salford, Stockport, Walsall and Warwickshire for two years from September.

Each scheme will receive funding of about £72,000 in the first year, with money for the second to be confirmed with the rest of the 2008-11 comprehensive spending review projects later this year.

Rosalie Monbiot, Norfolk's cabinet member for children's services, said: "This is brilliant news for Norfolk's children in care.

"We are absolutely delighted that our bid to move this forward has been successful. Being a good corporate parent to children and young people in our care is a very high priority for us."

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