A “huge and concerning” college drop-out rate among adopted young people has led Adoption UK to call for governments in all four nations of the UK to rethink our education system.    

The pause in formal education due to lockdown, and subsequent transition plans, provides a vital opportunity to reflect seriously on how to give the UK's most vulnerable students equal opportunities to learn.   

The charity’s Better Futures report reveals a third of adopted young people who started a college course within one year of leaving school, were unable to complete it. A similar proportion were not in education, employment or training (NEET) at some point between the ages of 16 and 24 – three times the national average.  

More than half of the adopted people surveyed for the report, all of whom are aged 16 or older, revealed they did not feel confident about their academic ability while they were at college.  

Low self-esteem and lack of confidence in their ability to meet the academic standards had a detrimental effect, especially among those who had previously struggled at school.   

Many adopted young people will have had a very difficult start in life. Three quarters of them have experienced abuse and neglect. All have lost their birth family and endured moves through the care system before finding a permanent home. In school, they are much more likely to be excluded, to have complex special educational needs, and to leave with few or no qualifications.  

Rebecca Brooks, Adoption UK’s education policy advisor and author of the report, said: “The traditional smooth trajectory from school to further education and on to work or higher education is out of reach for too many adopted young people.   

“Poor experiences of school, changes taking place during adolescence, and the additional challenges of navigating the transition to adulthood while coming to terms with a complex history and identity can result in young people arriving at post-16 education with unique and complex support needs.”  

The majority of respondents to Adoption UK’s survey did not benefit from the provision of a mentor or key worker, or access counselling or wellbeing services while they were at college. More than half found the college environment overwhelming and even threatening.  

Mrs Brooks continued: “The current lack of awareness around this group of young people’s needs and the subsequent failure of our education system to effectively support them has a dramatic impact, not only in terms of attainment, but also on mental health, motivations to continue with education, and long-term prospects.”  

Adoption UK is urging the governments across the UK to provide greater support for all care experienced children in schools; track the attainment of adopted young people in post-16 education and provide more realistic post-16 options for all young people.  

“These young people’s stories should prompt a radical overhaul of the way we support adopted and care-experienced people in further education throughout their lives, so that all those who did not have an equal start in life can have an equal chance in education,” Mrs Brooks added.