Derbyshire Virtual School

If you always do the same things you will get the same results!

By Kim Brooks

Tell us about your Virtual School?

Derbyshire’s Virtual School champion innovative work in creative practice and mindful pedagogy.

As a Virtual School, we are wholly focussed on improving the educational achievements and life chances for children in local authority care. We know too well the appalling national statistics that characterise the poor outcomes for children who have had traumatic family lives and are subsequently brought into state care: homelessness, mental ill health, unemployment, high numbers ending up in the criminal justice system etc.

Our overarching strategic direction as a Virtual School stems from three main guiding principles:

        Addressing the barriers and challenges in our education systems to improve policy, practice and pedagogy within our local schools and settings

        Improving the education pathways and planning processes used by all professionals involved in the child’s journey through the care system

        Embolden children and young people to have a greater sense of their own agency and support them to better influence their learning journey

What did you do to create such notable success with the pupil premium?

Two of our most powerful current innovations are learning and development programmes we undertake with the support of Pupil premium Plus funding – Derbyshire’s Attachment Aware Schools Programme and Creative Mentoring.

The Attachment Aware Schools Programme develops school ethos, pedagogy and practice through a yearlong action research professional development programme. Enabling staff in schools and settings to deeply explore and understand human behaviour and the ramifications of what it reveals about the experiences and needs of the child. This programme allows us to work in partnership with schools to:

        Improve the conditions for Children in Care in schools and settings

        Produce a portfolio of good practice examples and other resources to share across the whole of Derbyshire’s school community (and beyond!)

        Raise awareness of the issues and needs around attachment and trauma

        Consolidate working relations between the Virtual School and all schools

        Help to reduce fixed term exclusions

        Catalyse a new community of practice amongst schools

        Encourage mindful pedagogy.

We have been oversubscribed by schools applying to join this programme and the research from those who have participated to date has been truly transformational of the school environment and pedagogical practice in the classroom. The schools who complete the year’s programme with us go on to mentor and support other schools- creating a Derbyshire network of excellent attachment and trauma informed practice around our county. The programme is now in its third year and has involved almost 50 schools in all age and stages of education, creating safer and more nurturing learning environments for the whole learning community.

Our Creative Mentoring programme is a unique personalised approach to working with young people in care who are struggling to engage in education or at risk of exclusion or disaffection. When a young person is identified as needing specialised support, a Creative Mentor is commissioned; facilitating their mentee to reach a more positive emotional frame of mind and nurturing them to grow their skills and competences. The means of working with the young person are always practical, using a range of different creative mediums e.g. film, drama, music, poetry etc. or engaging with different environments which  helps them safely explore the world around them and  address learning,  personal and emotional issues from an ‘artistic distance'. Activity takes place at home, in school or in the community over varying lengths of time, dependent on the specific learning targets that are set.

In order to capture impact we ask Creative Mentors to chart student progress and improvement in: engagement; achievement; confidence; communication; motivation; ambition; all requiring a holistic view of the young person’s journey and re-framing their attitudes to learning in its broadest sense.


Both of these programmes of work are fully embedded in the overall strategic direction of our Virtual School.

Attachment Aware Schools and Creative Mentoring are together helping schools and settings to have a greater understanding of and better strategies for supporting our most vulnerable children. We know AAS participating schools are undertaking whole school ethos change and experiencing newly found success in working with children in care and all their vulnerable learners.

Creative Mentoring provides a model of personalised support for individual pupils, requiring the 'team around the child' to work more collaboratively, placing the child, their feelings, interests and motivations at the centre of the planning process.

Winning the award and sharing good practice

Being runners up in this year’s awards has given our work a national profile and brought two of our Virtual School programmes to the attention of other local authorities and Virtual Schools. We have been asked to share these in more depth and have been invited to speak at meetings and conferences - helping us to share our work with interested colleagues around the country.

In order to achieve our Virtual School vision we recognise that we must work innovatively across all the sectors and agencies that contribute to the lives of our young people in care, to improve communication and planning and to help connect all the different aspects of the child's life across home, school and leisure.

How can other organisations get in touch with you?

By emailing the Virtual School Headteacher -