Education for looked after children

The Children Act 1989 places a legal duty on Local Authorities to safeguard and promote the welfare of looked after children. This duty extends to promoting the child’s educational achievement and this information page will seek to explore the specific duties placed on Local Authorities in relation to the education of a looked after child. The Department for Education has also issued statutory guidance on Promoting the education of looked after children and previously looked after children.

Care Planning requirements in relation to education

Ensuring stability in education 

Local Authorities have a responsibility to secure a suitable care placement for looked after children in their area. In discharging this duty, the child’s social worker must ensure that all efforts are made to minimise disruption to the child’s education. This means that, where possible, the Local Authority should arrange a care placement which enables the child to continue in their existing educational placement. This is contained in Regulation 10 Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010.

The personal education plan (PEP)

All looked after children have a care plan. A PEP is a statutory requirement to ensure that a record is maintained regarding the child’s educational progress and thus it forms an integral part of the child’s overall care plan. The PEP should detail what needs to happen in order for the looked after child to fulfil their potential. The Local Authority are under a duty to ensure that the PEP fully reflects the educational needs of the child, remains relevant to the child’s age, ability and aptitude, and is implemented effectively. 

The content of a PEP 

The statutory guidance on promoting the education of looked after children requires that a range of educational and developmental needs are covered in a PEP. These include:

  • access to a nursery or other high quality early years provision that is appropriate to the child’s age and meets their identified developmental needs
  • on-going catch-up support for those who have fallen behind with school work
  • provision of immediate suitable education where a child is not in school
  • transition support needs where needed, such as when a child begins to attend a new school or returns to school; or when a child has a plan for permanence and may change schools as part of that plan;
  • support needed to help the child realise their short and long-term academic achievements and aspirations. This includes:
  • support to achieve expected levels of progress for the relevant national curriculum key stage and to complete an appropriate range of approved qualifications
  • careers advice and guidance and financial information about further and higher education, training and employment
  • out-of-school hours learning activities, study support and leisure interests
  • school attendance and, where appropriate, behaviour support

Review of the PEP

A PEP must be reviewed regularly as part of the looked after child (LAC) review. The review process enables information to be shared by others including the child’s parents, carers, school and other professionals in order to have a comprehensive view of the child’s situation. 

Virtual School Head (VSH)

Under Section 99 Children and Families Act 2014, Local Authorities are required to appoint at least one person who is tasked with promoting the educational achievement of all the children looked after by the Local Authority they work for, including children placed out of authority. 

It is the role of the VSH to ensure that there are effective systems in place to: 

  • maintain an up-to-date roll of its looked after children who are in school or college settings and gather information about their education placement, attendance and educational progress
  • inform headteachers and designated teachers in schools if they have a child on roll who is looked after by the VSH’s Local Authority
  • ensure social workers, designated teachers and schools, carers and IROs understand their role and responsibilities in initiating, developing, reviewing and updating the child’s PEP and how they help meet the needs identified in that PEP
  • ensure up-to-date, effective and high quality PEPs that focus on educational outcomes and that all looked after children, wherever they are placed, have such a PEP
  • ensure the educational achievement of children looked-after by the Local Authority is seen as a priority by everyone who has responsibilities for promoting their welfare
  • report regularly on the attainment of looked after children through the Local Authority’s corporate parenting structures
  • VSHs, working with education settings, should implement pupil premium arrangements for looked after children

School admissions

The Department for Education has issued statutory guidance in the form of the School admissions code.

Looked after children are regarded as one of the most vulnerable groups of children in society. As such, it is of paramount importance that a school place is found that meets the child’s educational needs as soon as possible. All schools must have oversubscription criteria for each relevant age group and the highest priority must be given, unless otherwise provided in the School Admissions Code to looked after and previously looked after children. 

The Virtual School Head (VSH) must ensure that:

  • the admission authorities are aware that looked after children are excepted pupils from the infant class size limit
  • the Local Authority, as a corporate parent, should not delay where a looked after child is without an education placement that is appropriate to their assessed needs.

The social worker involved with the looked after child should consult with the VSH on an appropriate education placement for the looked after child. If social workers are unsure about how school admissions work in relation to looked after children they should discuss this will the VSH.

School exclusions

The Department for Education has issued statutory guidance on Exclusions from maintained schools, academies and pupil referral units.

Looked after children as a collective have disproportionately high rates of exclusion. They are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of an exclusion. The head teacher should, as far as possible, avoid permanently excluding a looked after child. Schools should proactively cooperate with the child’s carers, social worker and Local Authority that looks after the child. If a school has concerns that a looked after child is at risk of exclusion, they should consider whether the provision of additional support would help or if an alternative educational placement is required. 

Special educational needs (SEN)

Around 70% of looked after children have some form of SEN. SEN departments should work closely with the VSH as well as social workers to ensure that Local Authorities have effective and joined-up processes for meeting the SEN of looked after children.

The VSH has certain duties and responsibilities towards looked after children with a statement of needs or an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). They must ensure that:

  • the SEND code of practice, as it relates to looked after children, is adhered to; and
  • the child’s statement or EHCP works in harmony with the child’s care plan.

A significant amount of children may be undiagnosed when they begin to be looked after. During the process of putting a PEP in place for looked after children, the Local Authority should ensure that any undiagnosed SEN are addressed as soon as possible if they are identified through this process.

Local Authorities should be particularly aware of the need to avoid any delays for looked after children and carry out the EHC needs assessment in the shortest possible timescale. Addressing a looked after child’s SEN will be a crucial part of avoiding breakdown in their care placement.

Supporting looked after children in their transition

Looked after children who have reached the age of 16 or 17 years old and are preparing to leave care are referred to in the Children Act 1989 as eligible children. The Local Authority has certain responsibilities in relation to eligible children including continuing to promote their educational achievement. 

Local Authorities have a duty to ensure that:

  • the child’s PEP is maintained. It is a statutory requirement that all eligible children have a pathway plan. The PEP should form a part of the initiation and review of the pathway plan.;
  • the pathway plan helps the child prepare for when they are to transition from being looked after to living independently, paying particular consideration to the young person’s education or training and how they are able to access all the services needed to prepare for training, further or higher education or employment
  • that care leavers are supported to find further education college and higher education establishments that meet the needs of the looked after child or care leaver.
  • every eligible child is aware and receives the 16-19 Bursary Fund.

Promoting the education of previously looked after children

The Children and Social Work Act 2017 expanded the duties of the Local Authority to promote the education children who previously had looked after status but no longer do so. 

In relation to previously looked-after children, the role of the VSH is limited in comparison their duty in relation to looked-after children given that they are no longer the child’s corporate parent. However, VSH’s must ensure that they provide suitable advice and information in order to promote their educational achievement. They can also undertake any activity they consider appropriate where that activity will promote the educational achievement of such children in their area. 

This information is correct at the time of writing, 27th October 2022. The law in this area is subject to change.

Coram Children’s Legal Centre cannot be held responsible if changes to the law outdate this publication. Individuals may print or photocopy information in CCLC publications for their personal use.

Professionals, organisations and institutions must obtain permission from the CCLC to print or photocopy our publications in full or in part.

On this page

This information is correct at the time of writing, 27th October 2022. The law in this area is subject to change.

Coram Children’s Legal Centre cannot be held responsible if changes to the law outdate this publication. Individuals may print or photocopy information in CCLC publications for their personal use.

Professionals, organisations and institutions must obtain permission from the CCLC to print or photocopy our publications in full or in part.

We would value any feedback you may have regarding our website. Please click here to take our short survey.