A leading improvement and innovation centre in Scotland has been awarded almost £60,000 by the Scottish Government to ‘bolster’ its programme designed to support pupils with care experience.

CELCIS – the Centre for Excellence for Children’s Care and Protection – will use the funding to invest in the continued development of Scotland’s Virtual School Head Teachers’ Network.

Established to share learning on how virtual school head teachers (VSHTs) can best support pupils with care experience, the network is now represented in 16 local authority areas.

The scheme brings VSHTs together to consider the challenges and opportunities facing children and young people in their education, including the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A VSHT is a senior member of education staff in a council who works at a strategic level, with their focus on improving the educational experiences and outcomes of all care experienced children and young people in their local authority area.

They also provide key links between multi-agency teams and advocate for the needs and rights of care experienced youngsters.

Education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “This additional investment of more than £59,000 will support CELCIS and the network of Virtual School Head Teachers in our shared mission to improve the lives of care experienced children and young people and their families.

“I am grateful to our partners at CELCIS and the 16 local authorities involved for their leadership, enthusiasm and commitment in driving this work forward.”

Claire Burns, director of CELCIS, said: “We know that the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the challenges already faced by pupils with care experience and their families and carers. Now, as many children and young people return to school, Virtual School Head Teachers are needed more than ever to drive progress towards better educational outcomes and experiences for all.

“This additional funding will enable us to continue to strengthen the VSHT Network in Scotland, creating environments where children and their families and carers are supported; their distinct needs, which are often unseen, can be met; and their views and experiences are embedded throughout their journeys into, through and beyond formal education.

“In doing so, we remain dedicated to supporting the implementation of the UNCRC into domestic law, embedding the recommendations of the Additional Support for Learning (ASL) review, and realising The Promise of the Independent Care Review.”

Over the last year, in partnership with the Scottish Government and Education Scotland, the VSHT Network has focused on supporting children who moved to a school in a different local authority.

Among the learning shared through the briefing papers and reports the programme has published recently is a practice document which provides practical advice for schools and local authorities during the SQA 2021 exam diet.

The network provides an opportunity for all local authorities involved to link in with each other through regular meetings and build good connections, allowing them to respond quickly to meet the needs of children and their families and carers.

CELCIS established the VSHT Network in 2019 and has hosted it since then.