If a week is a long time in politics, a year feels like aeons. Back in January 2022, the nation was still living under Covid-19 restrictions, Nadhim Zahawi (remember him?) was Secretary of State for Education, and here at Adoption UK, we were wondering if we were ever going to see the long awaited review of SEND provision in England.

Adoption UK kicked off the education policy year with the publication of our 'From Both Sides Now' report, evaluating the provision of educational support – pupil premium plus, designated teachers and virtual schools – for previously looked after children. The report highlighted shortfalls in resourcing, lack of clarity and insufficient guidance as factors that were limiting the effectiveness of these measures, despite the best intentions of education professionals. We called for more research to strengthen the evidence base for interventions, the introduction of a PEP-style education plan for all previously looked after children, and mandatory training on the needs of care-experienced children for all teachers.

Meanwhile, the SEND Review was rumbling on. By March, the green paper had been published, highlighting “a vicious cycle of late intervention, low confidence and inefficient resources allocation,” and prompting this response from Adoption UK.

At the same time, the government published the first schools white paper for six years, promising to provide ‘Opportunity for all’ by changing how schools are managed, setting stringent targets for achievement in English and Maths, and wide ranging proposals around behaviour, attendance and teacher training. Little did we know as we tried to unpick what all this meant for adoptive families, that by the end of 2022, after fierce debate in the House of Lords, the Schools Bill containing the white paper recommendations would be kicked permanently into the long grass.

As spring gave way to summer, consultation season began. Adoption UK responded to consultations on revised behaviour guidance, suspensions and exclusions guidance and, of course, the consultation on the SEND review. Our survey of adoptive parents found that while many of the proposals in the SEND green paper were cautiously welcomed in principle, parents had little confidence that the changes would result in genuine improvements on the ground – perhaps a legacy of experiencing a system that, in the green paper’s own words “is not delivering value for money for children, young people and families.”

While the SEND review had little to say about the specific needs of adopted and previously looked after children – rather disappointing since as many as 80% of this cohort will have recognised SEND – elsewhere, education professionals were coming up with their own ideas. In June, Adoption UK backed a petition by head teacher, Rob Leitch, calling for an automatic right to an education, health and care needs assessment on request for all previously looked after children.

The summer months are traditionally quiet in education policy circles as parliament goes into recess, and schools close for the summer break. This year was a bit different though as July saw Zahawi’s departure from the DfE. His replacement was Michelle Donelan, who became the shortest serving secretary of state in history when, just two days later, she resigned and was replaced by James Cleverly.

Then, towards the end of July, Baroness Barran issued a statement withdrawing the government’s previous commitment to bring forward legislation ensuring that summer born children would be able to enter Reception at the age of 5 and remain with their cohort throughout. This news prompted many adoptive families to contact us about the challenges they have faced ensuring a deferred reception place for their summer born children.  In response to our open letter­, the DfE assured Adoption UK that the decision not to legislate would be kept under review.

The new school year brought another new Secretary of State, as Kit Malthouse stepped into the role, and an interesting addition to the guidance on submitting the October schools census – a new code ‘O’ for overseas adopted children. Would this mean that children adopted from outside England and Wales would finally be eligible for pupil premium plus? Not necessarily, but there were promising signs.

As the winter term rumbled on, we all waited expectantly for the SEND Review implementation and delivery plan which we hoped would draw on the consultation responses to set out a proposal for how SEND reform would work. We didn’t get the plan but, at the end of the first half term, we did get a new Secretary of State – Gillian Keegan. By November, it was clear that the original commitment to publish the next stage of the SEND review by the end of 2022 would not be fulfilled and there is currently no timeline for its publication.

So where are we now, at the end of the year? The Schools Bill that generated so much frenetic debate and activity throughout the year is no more (although aspects of it will surely pop up in future legislation like the ghosts of Christmas past), and the SEND Review seems only fractionally further forward than it was at the start of the year.

And yet, we do have some actual progress and some good news to share at the end of the year. The DfE has confirmed that pupil premium plus eligibility will indeed be extended to children adopted from overseas, with the first funding to be received by schools in April 2023. It’s a small win, but an important one, removing a discrepancy in support that Adoption UK has long campaigned should be rectified.

So, here’s to 2023 – hopefully a year with a little less change and a lot more progress!


By Rebecca Brooks, Education Policy Advisor