The Role of the Designated Teacher for Looked After Children

Sara Spinks 5 February 2023 13 min read
 The Role of the Designated Teacher for Looked After Children feature image

In this article, Sara Rawnsley, looks at the statutory role of Designated Teacher for Looked after children and how this important role is fundamental to promoting the educational achievement and wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable children.

Statutory Framework

From 1 September 2009 the governing bodies of all maintained schools were required under the Children and Young Persons Act 2008 to appoint a Designated Teacher to promote the educational achievement of looked after children and previously looked after children who are on the school roll. The following statutory guidance should be read and adhered to:

Designated teacher for looked after and previously looked after children - GOV.UK (

Who can be a Designated Teacher for looked after children?

The Designated Teacher for looked after children must be:

  • A qualified teacher working at the school or in a MAT as a teacher, or
  • A Headteacher or acting Headteacher.

Although some of the tasks of this role may be delegated to competent members of staff, the Designated Teacher is accountable for looked after children at the school.

What is the role of the Governing Body with regards to the Designated Teacher?

Governing bodies should, informed by the Designated Teacher, hold the school to account on how it supports its looked after and previously looked after children (including how the Pupil Premium+ is used) and on their level of progress. Good practice is that Designated Teachers do this by providing the governing body with a regular report and Governing Bodies ensure regular monitoring of progress through the role of the named governor for Safeguarding and/or named governor for Pupil Premium. The report should contain information on:

  • Staff training;
  • Policies and procedures;
  • Number of LAC and previously LAC;
  • Progress of LAC and previously LAC;
  • Special educational needs (SEN) and LAC;
  • Attendance;
  • Interventions and support- including total pupil premium funding for LAC / previously LAC (Children who are looked after have access to additional funding to support the targets or outcomes set out in their Personal Education Plans (PEPs). This is called Pupil Premium Plus and is administered by the Headteacher of the Virtual School (VSH));
  • Local partnerships;
  • A qualified teacher working at the school or in a MAT as a teacher; or
  • Evaluation and improvement plan including strengths, areas for improvement, proposed actions and resources required.

The Governing Body need to ensure that the person appointed as Designated Teacher has:

  • appropriate seniority and skills to work with the school’s senior leadership and the governing body to help ensure school policies and approaches appropriately reflect the needs of looked after and previously looked after children, and act as a champion for them;
  • training opportunities, including time away from timetable commitments, to acquire and keep up to date the necessary skills, knowledge and understanding to respond to the specific teaching and learning needs of looked after and previously looked after children, including a good knowledge of SEND;
  • the appropriate resources to enable them to effectively carry out their role and access to expertise within school and externally to draw upon support as necessary e.g., SENCo, Designated Mental Health Lead, Children’s Social Care;
  • Whilst there is no statutory guidance on the frequency of governance monitoring, good practice would recommend at least annually.

What are the essential duties of the Designated Teacher?

The Designated Teacher has a duty of care to:

  • Promote a culture of high expectations - work with the Headteacher of the Virtual School (VSH), to promote the education of looked after and previously looked after children, developing and prioritising their personal, emotional and academic needs. The Virtual School does not exist in real terms as a building, and children and young people do not attend. They remain the responsibility of the school at which they are enrolled. The Virtual School works in partnership with the looked-after child or young person’s school/educational setting to ensure that they are supported to fulfil their potential at all stages of their education and to give them the best opportunity to be successful in their adult lives. Whilst looked-after children attend different schools/settings across a local authority, the Virtual School monitors their attendance, attainment and achievement, and makes sure that their educational success is a top priority in their care planning;
  • Make sure the young person has a voice in setting their targets;
  • Be a source of advice and training for staff and ensure that staff have high expectations of looked after and previously looked after children's learning, set targets to accelerate educational progress and ensure that they are aware of their individual needs;
  • Support and communicate with carers, including the Local Authority in their role as a parent, promoting good home-school links which help ensure progress and encourage high aspirations;
  • Lead on the development and implementation of the PEP (Personal Education Plans);
  • Produce a report for governors at least once a year;
  • Be the central point of initial contact within the school to help to make sure that arrangements are joined up and minimise any disruption to a child's learning;
  • Work closely with the school's Designated Safeguarding Lead to ensure that any safeguarding concerns regarding looked after and previously looked after children are quickly and effectively responded to;
  • Work closely with the school's Designated Mental Health Lead (DMHL) to ensure that any mental health and wellbeing concerns regarding looked after and previously looked after children are effectively responded to.

Personal Education Plans (PEP)- the development role of the Designated Teacher

All looked after children must have a PEP as part of their overall care plan. The PEP is a shared document which includes the information that everyone needs to help their conversations, planning and the delivery of strategies required to make sure the child gets the support and provision needed to succeed.

The Designated Teacher leads on how the PEP is used as a tool in school to make sure the child's progress towards education targets is monitored. They make sure that it is updated and available in time for the Local Authority review of the child's wider care plan.

The care plan and PEP may have been drawn up before the child becomes looked after and is placed. However, if a child becomes looked after in an emergency, the PEP must be initiated within 10 working days of the start of the first placement. An initial version must be available for the 20 working-day review of the care plan.

The PEP should be initiated by the social worker as part of the care plan but developed and reviewed in partnership with relevant professionals. Where the child is on the roll of a school, this will include the Designated Teacher, although class and subject teachers will also have considerable input. If the child has SEND, the SENCO or head teacher would also contribute and if there are any concerns relating to the child's mental health and wellbeing, there should be input from the Designated Mental Health Lead (DMHL).

The PEP, in addition to being part of the overall care plan, is part of a looked after child's official school record. If a child moves school, the PEP should be forwarded as a matter of urgency, along with other school records, to the new school when known, and to the main contact (usually the child's social worker) in the Local Authority which looks after the child. Whilst there is no statutory timeframe for transfer, good practice would be within five school days.

The PEP should help everyone gain a clear and shared understanding of the teaching and learning provision necessary to ensure academic progress and meet the child's educational needs, describing how that will be provided. For this reason, both schools and Local Authorities, through strong links between the Designated Teacher and the Virtual School Headteacher (VSH) in the authority that looks after the child, have a shared responsibility for making the PEP a living and useful document. The most effective PEPs reflect the individual planning that all schools undertake for all their pupils.

What must a PEP include?:

The local authority which looks after a child must ensure that the Designated Teacher is notified and receives the up-to-date PEP as a matter of urgency. This should be pre-populated with basic information and should include details about the child, such as:

  • the child: their age, care status, where they live, school history, whether they have special educational needs or a disability (including whether they have an Education;
  • their carers and the level of delegated authority;
  • their parents and what restrictions might apply in relation to their contact with the child;
  • whom to contact within the Local Authority that looks after the child (e.g. social worker and VSH).

Once a designated teacher receives this basic PEP, they need to make sure it meets the looked after children's needs by working closely with other teachers to assess their specific educational needs without delay. This assessment of learning needs will help to identify strengths, weaknesses and any barriers to learning and should form the basis for the development or the review and refinement of the PEP.

Although the designated teacher will lead on the plan within the school, other staff in the school may need to contribute to it, for instance the SENCO. The PEP is also likely to contain information about what the local authority and other agencies will do to support the child.

The Designated Teacher has a key role in making sure the initial PEP is fit for purpose and that it will be effective in supporting everyone to help the looked after pupil to make good educational progress.

What makes a successful PEP?

  • identify developmental and educational needs in relation to skills, knowledge, subject areas and experiences;
  • set short and long-term educational attainment targets agreed in partnership with the child and the carer where appropriate;
  • include a record of planned actions, including milestones on homework, extra tuition and study support, that the school and others will take to promote the educational achievement of the child, based on an assessment of their educational needs;
  • include information on how the child's progress is to be rigorously monitored;
  • record details of specific interventions and targeted support that will be used to make sure personal education targets are met, especially at the end of Key Stage 2 in relation to English and mathematics, and at Key Stage 4 in achieving success in public examinations;
  • say what will happen, or is already happening, to put in place any additional support which may be required - e.g., possible action to support special educational needs involving the SENCO, educational psychologist, or Local Authority education services;
  • set out information on what will happen or is already happening to identify and support any mental health and wellbeing needs relevant to the child's education;
  • set out how a child's aspiration and self-confidence is being nurtured, especially in consideration of longer-term goals towards further and higher education, work experience and career plans. They should focus on young person's strengths and capabilities and the outcomes they want to achieve;
  • include the child's views on how they see they have progressed and what support they consider to be most effective;
  • be a record of the child's academic achievements and participation in the wider activities of the school and other out of school learning activities (e.g. sporting, personal development);
  • provide information which helps all who are supporting the child's educational achievement to understand what works for the child, helping to substitute for the role that parents might otherwise provide;
  • have clear accountability in terms of who within the school is responsible for making the actions identified in the plan happen.

The Designated Teacher would normally have overall responsibility for leading the process of target setting for looked after children in school, should monitor and track how their attainment progresses, and ensure that identified actions are put in place. They will help the school and the Local Authority that looks after the child to decide what arrangements work best, in the development and review of the PEP.

How is a PEP monitored and reviewed?

PEPs should be reviewed termly. Designated Teachers should work closely with other staff in school to make sure the child's progress is rigorously monitored and evaluated.

They should be able to:

  • judge whether the teaching and learning and intervention strategies being used are working to support achievement and wellbeing;
  • know whether the young person is likely to meet the attainment targets in their PEP.

If the young person is not on track to meet targets, the Designated Teacher should be instrumental in agreeing the best way forward with them in order to make progress and ensure that this is reflected in the PEP.

  • the first review must happen within 20 working days of the date the child became looked after;
  • the second at not more than three months after the first review;
  • the third and subsequent reviews at not more than six monthly intervals.

The review is chaired by an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) The IRO will ask about the child's educational progress as part of the overall care plan review and should have access to the most up-to-date PEP.

To ensure there is an informed discussion at the statutory review of the care plan about the child's progress in school, the Designated Teacher is responsible for ensuring that:

  • they review the PEP before the statutory review of the care plan, ensuring it is up-to-date and contains any new information since the last PEP review, including whether agreed provision is being delivered;
  • the PEP is clear about what has or has not been taken forward, noting what resources may be required to further support the child and from where these may be sourced;
  • they pass the updated PEP to the child's social worker and VSH ahead of the statutory review of the care plan.

The school and the Local Authority which looks after the child have a shared responsibility for helping looked after children to achieve and make progress. The content, implementation and review of the PEP enable both the school and Local Authority to discuss how they can help achieve this. The PEP review should be done through a meeting involving the social worker, the young person, carers and others, such as the VSH.

What is Pupil Premium Plus (PP+)?

Looked after children and children adopted from care, on a special guardianship or child arrangements order are eligible for PP+ funding.

This is additional funding provided to help improve the attainment of looked after and previously looked after children and close the attainment gap between this group and their peers.

The extra funding provided by the PP+ reflects the significant additional barriers faced by looked after and previously looked after children. The Designated Teacher has an important role in ensuring the specific needs of these children are understood by the school’s staff and reflected in how the school uses PP+ to support these children. For looked after children, PP+ funding is managed by the Virtual School Head (VSH) for the purpose of supporting their educational achievement. The VSH and schools, including the Designated Teacher, should work together to agree how this funding can most effectively be used to improve looked after children's attainment. All PEPs should include information about how that looked after child is benefitting from the use of PP+ funding to improve their attainment.

For previously looked after children, PP+ funding is managed by the child's school. The amount a school receives is based on the number of eligible children recorded in the school's annual January School Census return to the Department for Education. For both looked after and previously looked after children PP+ is not a personal budget for individual children. The VSH and school manage their PP+ allocation for the benefit of their cohort of looked after or previously looked after children and according to children's needs.

  • for looked after children, liaise with the VSH so that the Designated Teacher can contribute to decisions about how PP+ will support improving the child's educational outcomes;
  • help raise previously looked after children's parents' and guardians' awareness of the PP+ and other support for previously looked after children. This includes encouraging parents of eligible previously looked after children to tell the school if their child is eligible to attract PP+ funding;
  • play a key part in decisions on how the PP+ is used to support previously looked after children;
  • encourage parents and guardians’ involvement in deciding how the PP+ is used to support their child and be the main contact for queries about its use.

The PP+ can be used to facilitate a wide range of educational support for looked after and previously looked after children. It is important that interventions supported by pupil premium should be evidence-based and in the best interests of the child.

The relationship of the designated teacher to others beyond the school

The Designated Teacher has a key role in making sure there is a central point of initial contact within the school who can manage the process of how the school engages with others (e.g., social workers, virtual school heads) and works in a joined-up way, minimising disruption to the child's education. The family arrangements for looked after children can be complex. Most will live with foster carers, some will live in residential children's homes, some will live with family members, and some, in very limited circumstances, may continue to live with their parents. All looked after children will have a social worker and some may require the involvement of other professionals, e.g., SEN and CAMHS. Designated teachers should discuss with the child's social worker how the school should engage with birth parents, and ensure the school is clear about who has parental responsibility and what information can be shared with whom.

The Designated Teacher should make sure that:

  • There is an agreed process in place for how the school works with others in focusing on how everyone contributes to promoting the child's educational achievement;
  • School policies (e.g., homework, behaviour) are communicated to social workers and carers;
  • The school does everything possible to maximise educational stability for the child, especially by finding ways of sharing information through the PEP and in providing advice to the local authority about the impact of disrupting education.

Raising Staff awareness and training for Looked after Children

A key part of the Designated Teacher's role is ensuring that they, and other school staff, have strong awareness, training and skills around the specific needs of looked after and previously looked after children and how to support them. As part of this, Designated Teachers should proactively build strong links with the VSH to access training and keep up to date with research and good practice.

The Designated Teacher should ensure that teachers have awareness and understanding of the specific needs of looked after and previously looked after children with regards to, among other things:

  • special educational needs (including speech, language and communication needs), which the SENCO can also help support;
  • attendance and exclusions;
  • homework;
  • choosing GCSE options;
  • understanding and managing any challenging behaviour;
  • promoting positive educational and recreational activities and supporting looked after and previously looked after children to be aspirational for their future education;
  • understanding the link between emotional wellbeing and being able to make educational progress;
  • Mental health and wellbeing needs, which the DMHL can also support;
  • training and employment and career planning.


Looked after and previously looked after children need and have the right to the support of a Designated Teacher. Many children will have suffered disrupted learning, may have missed extended periods of school, and many may have special educational needs (SEN). The gaps in their learning and, in many cases the emotional impact of their experiences, are likely to have become significant barriers to their progress. The complexity of this fragmented educational experience, with a high incidence of SEN and mental wellbeing difficulties, needs careful assessment and planning.

The Designated Teacher role is statutory to help ensure that effective practice becomes universal. The support that schools and Designated Teachers give to children who are looked after and previously looked after should not be seen in isolation. All looked after and previously looked after children will have a wide range of support mechanisms that will assist in promoting their educational achievement. The child's foster carer (or residential care worker), social worker or, for previously looked after children, parents or guardian, will have day-to-day responsibilities for the child. Within the Local Authority, the VSH will provide more strategic support or advice and information for both the child and the school. Working together, our aim is to give the best possible chances to our most vulnerable children.

Sara Spinks

SSS Author & Former Headteacher

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