‘In both camps’: Virtual School Head Teachers in Scotland connecting social work and education 

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The ‘Virtual School’ Head’ (VSH) has been a statutory role in England since 2014. This is a senior local authority officer with responsibility for the educational progress of children and young people who are currently, or have been previously, ‘looked after’ by a local authority. The overall aim of the Virtual School is to improve educational outcomes for care experienced children and young people.
In Scotland, 18 of the 32 local authorities have to date chosen to utilise funding to create ‘Virtual School Head Teacher’ (VSHT) and equivalent posts with a broadly similar purpose. This research explored the emergence of the VSHT role in Scotland.

Aims and objectives
To present research findings relating to the role of VSHTs in promoting and supporting relationships between social work and education, and discuss the implications of the role and increased collaborative working.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with VSHTs and equivalents who were members of the VSHTs Network in Scotland. Thirteen of the (then) 16 local authority representatives in the Network took part. Interviews were transcribed and thematically analysed.

The participating VSHTs emphasised the importance of their role in making connections with social workers. They described that this occurred at different levels of ‘the system’ and the difference this could make for children and families, including improved information sharing, better understanding of the supports available, and shared interventions.

Relationships are often described as a ‘golden thread’. Closer relationships between social work and education have the potential to be transformative for children and families.

The VSHT can be an important driver and promoter of relationships between social work and education, which can in turn enable collaboration in meeting children and young people’s needs. This has the potential to impact on learners’ experiences of education, beyond a narrow focus on attainment.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2023
EventJoint Social Work and Education Conference : Social work education, research and practice in turbulent times - Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 15 Jun 202316 Jun 2023


ConferenceJoint Social Work and Education Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Virtual School Head
  • social work
  • children
  • young people
  • local authority


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