No looked-after children in Northumberland were permanently excluded from school for the 10th year in a row.
This ‘fabulous achievement’ was just one of the positives from the Virtual School Headteacher’s Annual Report 2016-17, which was presented to Northumberland County Council’s families and children’s services committee on Thursday.
It is a statutory requirement for all local authorities to have a Virtual School Headteacher (VSH) to champion the education outcomes for looked-after children.
Northumberland’s VSH, Jane Walker, told the meeting: “There’s a lot of good news about achievement for looked-after children.”
She highlighted the continued increase in the number of looked-after children with a good level of development in Early Years, the huge leap in achievement in the phonics test for six-year-olds, and the number of 11-year-olds meeting the standards for reading, writing and maths more than doubling from last year.
Also, while 12 children were at risk of permanent exclusion during the year, none were, which continues a clean slate dating back to 2008.
“But there are areas we need to improve; not all the news was good and some of it was disappointing,” she added.
Outcomes at Key Stage 1 showed a big dip in achievement since the previous year and are now below the achievement of looked-after children nationally in reading, writing and mathematics.
There was also a drop in achievement at GCSE level – although this was expected as it was the first year of the new curriculum and exam system.
Ms Walker said: “It was at the national average, but obviously that’s not good enough, we want them to do better than that.”
Plus, the flip side of the no permanent exclusions was the ‘significant increase’ of fixed-term exclusions in 2016 to 19.7 per cent, which is well above national and regional averages, ‘despite the relentless efforts of the Virtual School, social workers and IROs (independent reviewing officers)’.
Likewise, while the overall absence rate remained constant, the percentage of looked-after children classed as persistent absentees followed the regional and national trend and increased slightly in 2017.
Another success story though was the four unaccompanied asylum seekers, who for the first time were placed in Northumberland by the Home Office, and did really well. All of them are now studying at college.
This report dealt with the 2016-17 school year as the required data for each academic year is not published by the Department for Education until the following March.
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service