Cognus Limited may be based in the oft-described leafy London commuter area of Sutton, but the pioneering work we are undertaking for children in alternative provision and children in care is absolutely required to create bright futures for some of the most vulnerable children in the country.
Our success is exemplified by our Virtual School. One of the key challenges when working with vulnerable children in care is ensuring that they first secure positive destinations after statutory schooling, and then maintain them.
As the local authority champion promoting the progress and educational attainment of Children Looked After (CLA) and Care Leavers (CL), our approach is designed to work collaboratively with the CLA, foster carers, schools, and the local authority. From the ages of two to eighteen, all CLA in Sutton are securely involved with Cognus and we follow them educationally that entire time and then continue in a supportive way once they are CL.
Our educational psychologists, speech and language team and Virtual School team together work closely with schools to determine the best use of pupil premium funding. We ensure the three Personal Education Plan (PEP) meetings each year are designed to cover transition – it’s not just something you do at the end, you do it for the whole journey and keep referring to it.
Carers are empowered with the knowledge of how to apply for and utilise help thanks to the training we provide.
We have helped to develop a graduated response for all Sutton schools to reduce exclusions, enabling schools to be more inclusive and aware of what support is available before coming to the point of exclusion.
Carefully planned transitions
Cognus is involved in transitional planning from a very early stage to ensure smoothness and continuity, planning a child’s educational journey up to two years in advance.
This continues beyond statutory school age. We have multi-agency meetings every six weeks to discuss current young people Not in Education, Employment, or Training (NEETs) and how they have been supported.
This approach has led to six young people being able to return to education, employment or training in the last year. We have external links which provide these young people with face-to-face support to learn interview, CV and application skills to help them develop into independent young adults.
An actual virtual school
We utilise technology to enable a literal virtual school whilst still maintaining personal relationships. Because children under the care of Sutton may be anywhere in the country, we now use laptop and skype technology to keep us from getting stretched too thinly – we send out the technology and then deploy a mix of virtual and face-to-face support. As an example, we provide some Lego therapy sessions via Skype for children in other local authorities through the commissioning of therapies through Pupil Premium funding.
Focus on relationships
We are the constant for these young people – their social worker often changes, but we don’t. Often they are moved so many times that our case worker is the only consistent person they’ve ever had in their life. If they move we quickly get their new school up to speed, ensuring they understand the child from day one.
Innovative EAL support
We are devising strategies to address an increasing number of asylum seekers coming into care. Our work with Flash Academy allows these young people to access their Virtual School English language learning programme in their own language.
Independent school support
Former children’s minister Nadhim Zahawi announced a partnership with boarding and independent day schools across the UK pledging they would give at least 40% off their fees for looked after children. We have achieved a neutral funding model and now have children at independent boarding and day schools. Boarding can sometimes even work out cheaper than sending them into full-time care. Where a child is found to be a good fit for boarding school education, this can result in very positive outcomes.
Link with Brighter Futures
Our separate Brighter Futures service was established after a successful bid to the Department for Education’s Innovation Fund and now helps young people in care or in secondary AP transition into Year 12, with expert staff having worked with them from early in Year 11. It’s during those transition points that cracks really start to show for the most vulnerable. Our goal is to prevent children from becoming NEETs. We have been able to stretch our Virtual School funding into post-16 provision linked with our Brighter Futures programme. We are then able to continue to run PEPs for these children, improving retention rates.
Primary school data now available for 2019 CLA comparison shows that our Sutton CLA have progressed at much better rates than both National and London regional averages for:
• Year 1 phonics at or above expected
• KS1 at or above expected for reading, maths and science
• KS1 to KS2 progress for reading, writing and maths
When you follow the thread through to the other end of our programme, last year’s proportion of children in care starting year 12 in education, employment or training was 93%. The rate of those then maintaining their destination was 84% compared to just 30% nationally.
This remarkable success is something we want to share more widely to help improve outcomes across the country.