Virtual school heads say a lack of resources will leave them unable to "do justice" to a change in the law that gives them new responsibilities for adopted children.
The roles of virtual school heads and designated teachers – who are responsible for the educational achievements of looked-after children – were expanded in the Children and Social Work Act 2017.
They now also have to provide information and advice to children who have left care in order to be adopted, as well as their new families.
The Department for Education (DfE) launched a consultation yesterday – at the start of National Adoption Week – on revising the statutory guidance around the law, to ensure that schools and local authorities promote the educational achievement of children who have left care via adoption and special guardianship, or children adopted from care outside of England and Wales.
'Without the money, we will be limited'
Jane Pickthall, the chair of the National Association of Virtual School Heads (NAVSH), has welcomed the focus on this group of children – but believes the government's changes are not enough.
She said: “We are positive about it but we just need the resources to do it justice. By nature, we want to help and resolve issues, but without the money we are going to be limited to that advice role.
“Where we would be challenging schools around exclusions, it is going to be harder for us to do that because we are not the corporate parent of those children.”
The local authority is the "corporate parent" of children in care, meaning it has a legal duty to support them. But this does not apply once children have been adopted.
Last week, the charity Adoption UK called for exclusions statistics for adopted children to be properly monitored, after many members reported that their children had been excluded from school.
Regarding exclusions of previously looked-after children, Ms Pickthall added: “It is going to be hard. In terms of direct work, we won’t have that capacity.”
Virtual school heads also manage and monitor the "pupil premium plus" funding for children in care.
For previously looked-after children, pupil premium plus funding is managed by the child’s school, and the amount a school receives is based on the number of eligible children recorded by the DfE.
Ms Pickthall added that knowing the total number of previously looked-after children can be a challenge. She said: “The numbers the DfE has got are only those that have come forward to self-declare to schools [for the pupil premium plus]. There is another cohort that is unknown.”
Earlier this month, a former DfE funding adviser said changes to the way in which schools are funded will result in many local authorities spending less on children in care.
The consultation from the Department for Education closes on 27 November.