IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Promoting the Achievement of Care Leavers with Wandsworth Virtual School

Two young people sitting at desks working in an office (Photo: Cultura Creative / Adobe Stock)

22 February 2023

Every year, approximately 10,000 16-18-year-olds leave foster or residential care in England, while remaining in the care of their local authority until the age of 21 (or 25 if they are in education or training). While the transition to adulthood poses challenges for all young people, those leaving care often face additional barriers and a more complex pathway on the road to independence. This has been compounded by the pandemic, placing care leavers at increased risk in recent years.

The Promoting the Achievement of Care Leavers (PACL) knowledge exchange programme, developed by UCL’s Centre for Inclusive Education (CIE), aims to support this transition for care leavers. Through the programme, researchers and local authorities work together to identify pro-active steps that can support care experienced young people in their journey onwards into further education, training, employment, and independent living.


From 2015 to 2019, the number of looked after children in the inner London borough of Wandsworth increased, with Wandsworth counting 307 looked after children in their care in 2019. In addition, care leavers were disproportionately affected by the isolation, loss of provision and reduction in employment opportunities brought on by the pandemic, meaning support for these children has never been more important. In response to this, the Wandsworth Virtual School team chose to partner with CIE and the PACL team to help support care leavers in their borough.

To start off the programme, a first day was held which brought together participants from a diverse range of organisations involved in supporting care leavers, including members of UCL and the Wandsworth Virtual School, St George’s hospital, Keltbray, Caras and South Thames College group. This led to the establishment of a wide breadth of projects, with each project supported by the Lead PACL Facilitator and an Education, Employment and Training (EET) Officer from Wandsworth Virtual School’s Post 16 team.


A range of projects were established following day one. This included a project developed in collaboration with Wandsworth BEST (Business and Education Succeeding Together) which focused on strengthening the internal referral systems to Wandsworth’s Full Potential programme and on increasing engagement with young people in care and care leavers to promote EET opportunities. This led to a 50% increase in the number of referrals to the Full Potential programme, increased support for care leavers, and to two care leavers successfully securing an internship.

Another project focused on supporting the transition to college. During the summer term, the Wandsworth virtual school organised a taster event, and invited young people to attend, leading to five young people enrolling at the college for the following year.  


Participants shared many positive outcomes from PACL, such as expanded opportunities for Education, Employment and Training, strengthened local partnerships, increased opportunities for career guidance and work experience, an improved EET offer for care experienced young people, and support with developing employability skills. For example, Wandsworth BEST’s Full Potential programme experienced a significant improvement in the quality and volume of referrals, with more care experienced young people being referred, starting work experience, and engaging in careers guidance support.

Furthermore, since completing the programme, the Wandsworth Virtual School and the PACL team have continued to build upon what was achieved. A Professional Learning Network was established between UCL and Wandsworth Virtual School, providing a forum where participants can share learning, build on partnerships, and keep up to date with the latest research. The first session was held in March 2022 and was well attended by all partners from the original programme, as well as virtual schools from other boroughs. 

Instagram Widget Placeholderhttps://www.instagram.com/p/Cb7ZQ2kNv-z/

The Wandsworth Post 16 participation team has also launched a new Instagram account, @wbc16to18participation, which is a vibrant and engaging social media platform offering a wealth of information on their local Employment, Education and Training provision. They have continued to link with local services such as Click and Youth Ambassadors to promote their services and highlight the voices of care experienced young people.


Cultura Creative / Adobe Stock

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