HMC schools in action: Berkhamsted’s partnership with Hertfordshire Virtual Schools makes a difference for Looked After Children

In 2019 Looked After Children (children who are in care of the local authority) had an average Attainment 8 score of 19.1 compared to 44.6 for all children, while only 7.2% achieved a grade 5 or above in English and Maths.

Berkhamsted School is working alongside Hertfordshire Virtual School to deliver residential interventions during the school holidays for Looked After Children in order to make a difference to their achievement and wellbeing. The impact these sessions have had on the young peoples’ lives has not only helped them to close the attainment gap, but also has raised their aspirations and improved their confidence. The school has seen young people who were afraid to speak out at first being able to jump off a tower (connected to a bungee of course), teach others to make pizza, challenge their social worker during a paintball battle and amazingly perform a battle rap on stage about why there should be school uniforms! The difference these sessions make is clear to see for all involved.

At the time of writing, Berkhamsted has been able to welcome nearly 100 looked after children to its school campus for these interventions during the Easter and Summer holidays. Feedback from the children involved has been highly positive (including after a full morning of maths), with the young peoples’ favourite sessions of the stay being high ropes, archery, public speaking and cookie-making. This variety of activities provides not only academic support but development of a range of key life skills.

Berkhamsted School’s values are “aiming high with integrity”, “serving others” and “being adventurous”. These infuse the school’s planning. By working these core values into residentials, the school has allowed the young people to access GCSE revision masterclasses with its teachers, which involve an intensive morning in small groups exploring Science, Maths or English. Beyond the academic sessions the young people also get to take part in confidence and team building activities using the school’s outdoor education facilities where they are encouraged and taught to be adventurous by participating in new activities which may mean stepping out of their comfort zones. This is where they develop confidence to try, confidence in their own abilities and other skills that they require for daily life. In addition, the courses include wellbeing sessions provided by the school’s counsellors, opportunities to develop public speaking skills with drama teachers and taking part in swimming and sports. During the next intervention, the school will be getting the next cohort of young people over the threshold of a local university for a visit in order to help manage the fear of taking the next step and raise aspirations.

Berkhamsted is lucky to have a team of staff and students who voluntarily give up their time to help run these projects. With the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions over the last few months we have also been able to use outgoing Year 13s to augment public speaking sessions. We are also fortunate to have been supported by Chartwells Independent who not only cater for the interventions but have also led sessions on healthy eating and fun pizza making sessions - allowing the youngsters to develop a wider range of skill to prepare them for life beyond their school education. The school staff work alongside a dedicated and outstanding team of social workers and educational support workers who also provide support and advice to make these residential stays possible.

Partnership is a two-way street: the impact of this project at Berkhamsted has reached beyond the Looked After Children who have attended, having a positive impact on all involved. The social workers who have been able to see their young people in different settings and build more meaningful relationships, the carers who have been awarded a well earnt rest and the Berkhamsted staff and students who will all attest to the positive impact this has had on them – allowing many of its own students to reflect on their fortunate experiences at school.

The school’s next residential intervention will be with Year 11’s who will be staying with at Easter and will have the delights of being treated to archery, high ropes, a formal meal, and of course, four hours of Maths in the morning! We can’t wait to get started.

Richard Backhouse, Principal at Berkhamsted, said: “We are delighted to have formed a strong partnership with Hertfordshire Virtual School to help the young people in their care to boost their education in the holidays. I am particularly grateful to the staff and pupils who give their own time to support this really excellent initiative, which puts our values into action to benefit the local community.”