What is it and what does it mean for you?


This  guidance contains the key points from the DfE’s ‘The designated teacher for looked-after and previously looked-after children’ (2018).


It is aimed at:

  • Governing boards of maintained schools in England.
  • Proprietors of academies.
  • Designated teachers for looked-after and previously LAC in maintained schools and academies.
  • Headteachers, SENCOs and other teachers.

    The governing board of a maintained school and the proprietor of an academy must ensure that an appropriately qualified and experienced designated teacher undertakes the responsibilities within the school to promote the educational achievement of looked-after and previously LAC on the school’s roll. They must also ensure that the designated teacher undertakes training that is appropriate to carrying out this duty.






    The DfE document provides the following definitions:


  • A child referred to as ‘looked-after by an LA’ is a child who is looked after as defined in section 22 of the Children Act 1989 or Part 6 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014.
  • A previously looked-after child is one who is no longer looked after in England and Wales because they have been the subject of adoption, special guardianship or a child arrangements order which includes arrangements relating to whom the child is living with, or when the child is to live with any person, or has been adopted from ‘state care’ outside England and Wales.
  • A child is in ‘state care’ outside England and Wales if they are in the care of or accommodated by a public authority, religious organisation or any other organisation the sole or main purpose of which is to benefit society.

    For the purpose of this 3-Minute Read, the term LAC refers to current LAC and children who have previously been considered looked-after, unless otherwise stated.




    Why LAC need support



  • Many LAC have suffered disrupted learning, may have missed extended periods of school, and many have SEND.
  • The gaps in LAC’s learning and the emotional impact of their experiences are likely to become barriers to their progress.
  • The designated teacher role is statutory to help ensure that effective practice becomes universal.
  • Attainment data for LAC shows that they do not perform as well at KS2 and KS4 when compared to non-LAC.
  • All LAC will have wide range of support mechanisms that will assist in promoting their educational achievement.
  • Within the LA, the virtual school head (VSH) will provide more strategic support or advice and information for the pupil and the school.

    The role of the governing board



  • The role of the designated teacher varies from school to school and will depend on the number of LAC on roll, the pupil’s individual needs, and the cohort the school caters for.
  • Not all aspects of the designated teacher role need to be carried out by one teacher or even a qualified teacher, schools will need to decide how functions are most appropriately delegated, e.g. if a secondary school had a significant number of LAC on roll, the governing board may decide to designate more than one teacher.
  • The governing board, headteacher and SLT should consider a number of questions when supporting the designated teacher role, including:
    • Does the designated teacher have appropriate seniority and professional experience to provide leadership, training, information, challenge and advice to others?
    • Does the designated teacher have appropriate seniority and skills to work with the SLT and governing board to ensure policies and approaches reflect the needs of LAC?
    • What resource implications might there be in supporting the designated teacher? (more questions to consider can be found on p. 9 of the DfE guidance) 



  • The needs of LAC may have implications for almost all school policies and the governing board should ensure policies effectively reflect pupils’ needs. Some issues that may be considered when reviewing policies include:
    • Whether the pattern of attendance and exclusions for LAC is different to that of other pupils at the school.
    • Whether any LAC are identified as gifted and talented and how those needs are being met.
    • Whether any LAC have mental health needs and whether those are being met. (more examples of what should be considered can be found on p. 10-11 of the guidance)
  • Governing boards, through the designated teacher, should hold the school to account on how it supports its LAC and their level of progress. Some schools do this by providing the governing board with a regular report, compiled by the designated teacher; however, due to the varying numbers of LAC, the DfE recommends taking a flexible approach to such a report.

    The role of the designated teacher



  • The designated teacher should be a central point of contact within the school – to make sure arrangements are joined up and to minimise any disruption to pupils’ learning.
  • The most effective designated teachers have a leadership role in promoting the achievement of every looked-after child on the school’s roll – this involves working with the VSH to promote the education of all LAC.
  • Designated teachers should take responsibility for ensuring staff understand the things that can affect how LAC achieve and how the school can support the achievement of these pupils. This means making sure all staff:
    • Have high expectations of LAC’s learning and set targets to accelerate educational progress.
    • Are aware of the emotional, psychological and social effects the loss or separation from birth families can have on pupils.
    • Understand the importance of seeing LAC as individuals rather than as a homogeneous group.
    • Have the level of understanding they need of the role of social workers, VSHs and carers.
    • Appreciate the importance of LAC’s personal education plans (PEPs).

      Have a level of understanding of the role of social workers, VSHs and carers.


  • Designated teachers are likely to have a more direct and day-to-day role in promoting the educational achievement of LAC, either directly or through appropriate delegation – this can be achieved by:
    • Contributing to the development and review of whole-school policies.
    • Promoting a culture of inclusivity for LAC.
    • Being a source of advice for teachers.
    • Working directly with LAC, their carers, parents or guardians.
    • Taking responsibility for the development and implementation of LAC’s PEPs.
    • Working closely with the DSL to ensure that any safeguarding concerns regarding LACs are quickly and effectively responded to.
  • When supporting LACs, designated teachers should be aware of the VSH and the information and advice they provide to parents on meeting the needs of the looked-after child – this can include general information, e.g. training opportunities, or information on individual children at the request of the designated teacher and the looked-after child’s parents.
  • Designated teachers should involve parents in decisions affecting their child’s education.



    Developing PEPs



  • All LAC must have a care plan; this is drawn up and reviewed by the LA responsible for the pupil. It should identify intended outcomes and objectives for the pupil and provide the framework to work with the child – the care plan must also include a health plan and a PEP.
  • The PEP is a record of the child’s education and training, and should describe what needs to happen for a looked-after child to fulfil their potential. 
  • The care plan and PEP may have been drawn up before the pupil becomes an LAC; however, if a child becomes looked after in an emergency, the PEP must be initiated within 10 working days 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 by the relevant professionals – this will include the designated teacher where the child is on a roll of a school, the SENCO and headteacher may also be included in developing the PEP. The PEP should be forwarded as a matter of urgency if the pupil moves school.
  • The PEP should help everyone gain a clear insight into the teaching and learning provision necessary to ensure the pupil’s academic progress, and the PEP forms part of an looked-after child’s official school record.
  • Unaccompanied asylum seeking or refugee pupils are entitled to the same LA support as any other LAC.



    Receiving the PEP



  • When a pupil on the school’s roll becomes a looked-after child, the LA must ensure 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, e.g. their age, care status, current address and who to contact within the LA that looks after the child.

    Children who are already looked after should have an existing PEP, which should contain all the information about educational progress and how the pupil learns best. If the LA has not provided the most recent PEP, the designated teacher should follow this up with the LA, through the VSH or the pupil’s social worker. 


    What the designated teacher should do with the PEP



  • The designated teacher will need to work closely and collaborate with other teachers, e.g. the SENCO, to ensure the PEP meets the pupil’s needs.
  • The designated teacher has a key role in making sure the PEP is effective in supporting everyone to help the looked-after child make good educational progress.

    The designated teacher normally takes responsibility for leading the process of target setting for LAC, and they will assist the school and LA in deciding what arrangements work best in review of the PEP.


    What to include in the PEP


    PEPs should:


  • 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 pupil and their carer, where appropriate.
  • Include a record of planned actions (e.g. milestones on homework, extra tuition and study support) that the school and others will take to promote the educational achievement of the pupil.
  • Include information on how the child’s progress will be rigorously monitored and record details of specific interventions and targeted support that will be used to make sure personal education targets are met.
  • Detail what will happen, or is happening, to put in place any additional support which may be required, e.g. support for SEND or mental health needs.
  • Set out how a child’s aspirations and self-confidence are being nurtured, especially in relation to their longer-term goals, e.g. in higher education and work.
  • Include the pupil’s opinion of how they have progressed and what support is most effective.
  • Be a record of the pupil’s academic and extra-curricular achievements.
  • Be clear about who within the school is responsible for the actions identified in the plan. 



    Monitoring and reviewing the PEP in school


  • Designated teachers should work closely with other staff to ensure the pupil’s progress is monitored and evaluated. If the pupil is not on track to meet targets, the designated teacher should be instrumental in agreeing the best plan of action.
  • It is statutory for the LA that looks after a pupil to review their care plan: the first review must happen within 20 working days of the date the child became looked-after; the second review should be no longer than three months after the first review; the third and subsequent reviews  should be no longer than every six months. Reviews are chaired by an independent reviewing officer (IRO) – who will ask about the pupil’s progress and should have access to the most up-to-date PEP.
  • The designated teacher is responsible for: reviewing the PEP before the statutory review of the care plan; ensuring the PEP is clear about what has or has not been taken forward; passing the updated PEP to the pupil’s social worker and the VSH ahead of the statutory review of the care plan.
  • The school and LA have a shared responsibility for helping to ensure LAC can achieve and enjoy themselves at school – the content of the PEP should enable both parties to discuss how this can be achieved. The PEP review should be done through a meeting involving the social worker, the pupil, carers and other parties, e.g. the VSH.



    Transferring of the official school PEP record


    The designated teacher is fundamental to helping LAC make a smooth transition to their next school or college. This includes arrangements to achieve a speedy transfer of the looked-after child’s school records to a new school, ensure the child’s PEP is up-to-date, and that the LA responsible for looking after the child has the most recent version of the PEP.


    Transfer out of care


    When pupils are no longer considered looked-after, their educational needs are unlikely to change significantly simply because their care status has changed. Although they will no longer be required to have a PEP, designated teachers will wish to consider what is best for continuity and meeting the pupil’s educational needs. This will particularly apply to those who leave care through adoption, special guardianship or a child arrangements order, where the designated teacher has a duty to promote their educational attainment. As part of this, designated teachers should maintain links with VSHs, who must make advice and information available to the designated teachers for the purposes of promoting the educational achievement of this group of previously LAC.


    Voice of the pupil



    Listening to the voice of LAC is a vital part of understanding and meeting their needs.

    Five tips for designated teachers on listening to the voice of LAC are:

  • Be available and get to know LAC
  • Notice if they’re upset or angry and listen when the looked-after child needs help
  • Understand that, despite their past, LAC don’t need treating differently
  • Understand the experience of being looked after
  • Understand that the pupil’s past will affect their present and future behaviour 

    Pupil premium plus



  • All LAC, pupils adopted from care, pupils on a special guardianship or child arrangements order are eligible for the pupil premium plus (PP+) – this funding helps to improve the attainment of LAC and close the attainment gap between them and their peers.
  • LAC’s needs can be very different to other pupils eligible for the pupil premium, and how the money is spent should take account of the specific needs of eligible pupils. The extra funding provided by the PP+ reflects the additional barriers faced by LAC – the designated teacher has an important role in ensuring LAC needs are understood and met.
  • PP+ funding is looked after by the VSH, who should work with the pupil’s school and designated teacher to agree the most effective way of improving the LAC pupil’s attainment.
  • For previously LAC, PP+ is managed by the pupil’s school – the amount the school receives is based on the number of eligible pupils recorded in the school’s January census.
  • The PP+ is not a personal budget for each looked-after child, but a collective budget that is managed by the VSH and the school.
  • The designated teacher should:
    • Liaise with the VSH and contribute to decisions.
    • Help raise parents’ awareness of the PP+ and other support that may be available.
    • Play a key part in decisions on how the PP+ is used, and encourage parents to get involved in decisions.
  • The PP+ can be used to access a wide range of support for LAC; however, it is best that the chosen interventions are evidence based and in the best interests of the pupil.
  • A summary of the positive characteristics of interventions which may help using the PP+ effectively is available on p. 23 of the DfE guidance. 
  • Further information is available in the Pupil premium 2017 to 2018: conditions of grant.

    Raising awareness and staff training



  • The designated teacher should build strong links with the VSH to access training, keep up-to-date with research and good practice, and ensure that they and other school staff are trained and knowledgeable in supporting LAC.
  • The designated teacher should ensure that teachers have awareness and understanding of the specific needs of LAC, with regards, but not limited, to:
    • SEND
    • Attendance
    • Homework
    • GCSE options
  • Previously LAC’s challenges and need for support will often continue after they leave care and designated teachers’ work will need to reflect that their role for previously LAC is different to that for LAC, because the LA is no longer their corporate parent.



    LAC with SEND



  • Designated teachers should familiarise themselves with the education, health and care plans (EHCPs) of any LAC with SEND.
  • The designated teacher should ensure that:
    • The SEND Code of Practice, as it relates to LAC, is followed.
    • Pupils’ PEPs work in harmony with their EHCP.
    • With the help of the VSH, they have the skills to identify any SEND issues and know how to access further assessment and support – making full use of the SENCO and LA support team.



      Mental health



  • LAC are more likely to experience the challenge of social, emotional and mental health issues – forming trusting relationships, managing strong feelings and coping with change, may all impact pupils’ behaviour and education.
  • The designated teacher should work with school staff and the VSH to ensure that school staff have the skills to identify the signs of potential mental health issues and understand the impact trauma, attachment disorder and other mental issues can have on LAC and their ability to learn.
  • The guidance recommends working with your school’s mental health officer, where available.
  • One way to measure the emotional and behavioural difficulties experienced by LAC is to implement strengths and difficulties questionnaires (SDQs) – these questionnaires are for use with 2-4 or 4-17-year-olds and can help form a view about a looked-after child’s emotional wellbeing.
  • LACs may benefit from triangulation of SDQ scores, from their carer, teacher and, if they’re in the 11-17 age bracket, their self-evaluation, to better inform their PEP and health assessment – other examples of screening tools are available in Improving mental health support for our children and young people.

    Designated teachers should work with the SLT, parents and the officer responsible for mental health to put in place mechanisms to understand the emotional and behavioural needs of LAC.


    Working with parents and carers 



  • Family arrangements for LAC can be complex – the designated teacher should proactively engage with social workers and other professionals, e.g. Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), to enable the school to effectively respond to LAC’ needs.
  • Birth parents may still be involved with the looked-after pupil, particularly where pupils are accommodated by the LA under section 20 of the Children Act 1989. It’s important for designated teachers to get to know those who have parental responsibility – the teacher should discuss with the pupil’s social worker about how to engage with birth parents and encourage them to be actively involved in their child’s education, and ensure the school is clear about who has parental responsibility.
  • The LA should oversee that designated teachers work closely with the pupil’s carer to ensure they understand the child’s situation, e.g. whether the pupil is on a care order or is voluntarily accommodated.

    Carers should participate in PEP planning and schools should consider how they can encourage carers in supporting the education of the children they look after.


  • Designated teachers should ensure that: there is agreed process in place for how the school works with the child’s carer and other professionals; school policies, relating to home-school agreements, time-keeping and attendance, homework diaries and parents’ evenings are in place and communicated to parents; the pupil’s teachers know the most appropriate person to contact when necessary, e.g. who will sign permission slips for school trips.

    For previously LAC, the designated teacher should work closely with parents as they will understand the pupil’s needs best – the designated teacher should make themselves known to parents as someone they can talk to about issues affecting the pupil. Parents should be encouraged to participate in discussions about their child’s needs, e.g. how PP+ should be spent – parents views and wishes should be respected at all times.



    Working with LAs



  • Under the Children Act 1989, LAs have a duty to promote the educational achievement of LAC, and make advice and information available to parents.
  • LAs are responsible for appointing a VSH. The VSH is an LA officer responsible for discharging the LAs duty as a corporate parent to promote the educational achievement of the pupils it looks after, as if they were in a single school.
  • Designated teachers should consider how to effectively cooperate and build relationships with the VSH and the LA’s SEND department to maximise their effectiveness.
  • A secure and stable school placement is an integral part of narrowing the attainment gap between LAC and their peers. Strong working links between the school, the LA, parents and social workers, mean a better chance of keeping the pupil’s education and wellbeing on track.
  • The designated teacher should consider how to maximise the stability of LAC’ education by: finding ways of making sure the latest information about the pupil’s education progress is available; ensuring mechanisms are in place to identify and inform VSHs where LAC are absent without authorisation; talking to the pupil’s social worker and others in the LA regarding any changes in care placements that could disrupt learning or training; offering advice on how to minimise the disruption caused if a move in educational placement cannot be avoided; making sure that if an LAC moves school the designated teacher at the new school is provided with any information to ease the transition process.


  • •For previously LAC, VSHs are no longer acting as the part of their corporate parent – their role is limited to providing information to parents and schools – the designated teacher may seek the advice of the VSH about meeting the needs of pupils. In light of this, the designated teacher should form a good working relationship with the VSH.




  • Past experiences can impact on pupils’ behaviours – this should be taken into account when considering how to support the pupil with their learning and when applying the school’s behaviour policies. In line with the DfE’s Exclusions from maintained schools, academies and pupil referral units in England, headteachers should avoid excluding LAC where possible.
  • Where an LAC is at risk of exclusion, the designated teacher should contact the VSH as soon as possible to decide how the pupil can be supported to avoid exclusion – the designated teacher, VSH and carers should consider what additional assessment and support, e.g. therapeutic work, needs to be put in place to address the causes of the looked-after child’s behaviour.  The DfE’s Mental health and behaviour in schools guidance may be helpful.
  • The designated teacher should talk to the child’s parents or guardians before seeking the advice of the VSH on avoiding exclusion.



    What’s next?



    Download the DfE’s ‘The designated teacher for looked-after and previously looked-after children’ here.

    For more information on pastoral care, view our topic page, which includes templates and guidance pertaining to challenging behaviour and pupil wellbeing.

    Our LAC Policy provides a framework for ensuring that LAC and previously-LAC receive the best possible education – the policy addresses key considerations such as the designated teacher, working with agencies, PEPs and more.

    If you’re looking to appoint a designated teacher, our job description outlines the main duties and responsibilities, and provides a firm foundation for your school-specific job description.