Evaluation of the expanded duties of virtual schools

This project will focus on the evaluation of two new policy initiatives announced in Summer 2021, with the Rees Centre being commissioned as the Department for Education’s research partner.


On 16th June, the Government announced more than £16 million for councils to extend the role of Virtual School Heads from September this year, meaning there will be a local champion for children with a social worker in every local authority in England. This will ensure that more focus is placed on children with a social worker, targeting support earlier on in these young people’s lives and helping improve how they engage with education.

A further £3 million in funding has also been confirmed for a new pilot, where Virtual School Heads will support looked-after children and care leavers in post-16 education. Launching in October, the pilot will enable Virtual School Heads to expand their work to cover further education pathways.

Both programmes will build on the existing role of a Virtual School Head.  This has been a statutory role in local authorities since 2014 and their role is to champion and improve the educational outcomes for children.  They achieve this by enhancing relationships between schools, colleges and local authorities so that pupils receive support from professionals that will help them develop and progress.


The first phase of the evaluation will span October 2021 to March 2022 and focus on the implementation of the two policy initiatives within Virtual Schools.  We will be using a mixed methods approach, drawing on surveys, online interviews and practitioner workshops to build a picture of how different Virtual Schools are responding to the new duties and any indications of early success.  In particular, we will be focusing in on 15 local authority case studies to explore emerging good practice.

The second phase of the evaluation, from April 2022 to March 2025, will develop measures of success with Virtual Schools to understand whether the new initiatives are working and how to improve effectiveness further.

For more information about this study, please e-mail vsextension@education.ox.ac.uk.


Former team member: Neil Harrison