A report by Adoption UK warns that many adopted children, who have often had traumatic early years, are struggling to cope emotionally at school and are failing academically as a result.

The report, Bridging the Gap, describes a school environment that is failing children and teachers and is affecting schools’ performance in league tables. It identifies significant gaps in understanding, empathy and resources that are preventing adopted children from having an equal chance to succeed at school.

To inform the report, Adoption UK conducted a survey of emotional wellbeing at school. Almost 4,000 adoptive parents and children responded.

  • 79 per cent of children who responded feel routinely ‘confused and worried at school’;
  • Almost 70 percent of parents who responded feel their child’s progress in learning is affected by problems with their emotional wellbeing in school;
  • Almost three quarters of young respondents agreed: “Other children seem to enjoy school more than me”;
  • Two thirds of secondary age children who responded said they felt bullied at school for being adopted;
  • Three quarters of young respondents said they did not feel their teachers understand how to support them.

Earlier Adoption UK research has shown that adopted children are 20 times more likely to be permanently excluded from school than their classmates, and they are much more likely to leave school with no qualifications.

Adoption UK is proposing 3 key changes: A specialist programme of continuing professional development to equip all educators to support traumatised children; more emphasis on emotional and social skills; and ensuring that all children can access the same level of specialist support in school no matter where they live in the UK.

The report’s author, Becky White, a former teacher, said: “Children who have had a traumatic start in life will be at a disadvantage at school, and they deserve an education that gives them an equal chance of success. The reality is that in the current school environment, many adopted children are barely surviving, let alone thriving.”

These problems are not restricted to adopted children. Nearly half of all children will have traumatic experiences during their formative years, and many are experiencing similar challenges to adopted children in school. This is putting a huge strain on teaching staff, who are increasingly judged by academic results.

Becky White continued: “The root of the problem is an education system that prizes exam results at the expense of wellbeing. Many teachers have told us that they are less able to build proper relationships with their pupils, and their most vulnerable students are dramatically falling behind. It will take leadership from governments and schools to turn this around.”

The report kick-starts the Equal Chance Campaign, in which Adoption UK is calling on UK governments to re-think the way we are educating our most vulnerable children and to address the shortfall in vital support needed in schools.