How do Virtual Schools Support Looked After Autistic Children? (Student Project)

Lynn De La Fosse.

Doctorate in Educational Psychology.

Department for Education statistics show that children who are looked after have poorer academic outcomes than their non-looked after peers, including lower attainment in reading, writing, maths and science. Little research has looked specifically at the outcomes of looked-after children with additional needs. Children who are looked after are more likely to have special educational needs and / or disabilities (SEND) than non-looked after children. Of those, 2-3% of all looked-after children are estimated to have an autism diagnosis (Parsons, McCullen, Emery & Kovshoff, 2018).

Virtual Schools operate in every local authority to monitor and support the progress of all looked-after children in that local authority as if they attended one single school. My project aims to explore how Virtual Schools support looked after children with a diagnosis of autism. The present study will focus on the views and experiences of Designated Teachers, and the role they play in supporting looked-after children with autism. It will also explore the experiences of the looked after autistic children themselves, as they are significantly under-represented in the literature.

Two main research questions will be considered:

  • How does a Virtual School operate to support looked after autistic children?
  • How is the role of the Designated Teacher understood from the perspectives of the teachers themselves, and the LAC they work with?

I will be taking a qualitative research approach, carrying out semi-structured interviews with Designated Teachers and looked-after students with a diagnosis of autism in up to four Local Authorities in England. This project is supervised by Professor Sarah Parsons and Dr Hanna Kovshoff.