There are so many sources of information available when choosing a school for your child. School websites, inspection reports and the views of other parents you trust can all be great starting points, but there is really no substitute for visiting the school yourself, talking to members of staff, and experiencing the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, Covid-19 restrictions may mean that in-person tours are impossible and speaking to a wide range of staff members might be more difficult. Parents may feel under even more pressure to ask the right questions to get the answers they need.

However, there is more to choosing the right school than asking the right questions.

A good, collaborative working relationship between professionals and parents will be vital and this begins even before your child starts at the school. As you arrange meetings and virtual tours, look for signs that the school takes those relationships seriously. How easy was it to set up the meetings you needed? Were key members of staff able to make themselves available to talk to you? Schools are working under unprecedented conditions at the moment, and staff availability may be limited, but look for evidence that the school is prepared to take an open, co-operative approach where your experience as your child’s parent will be valued and welcomed.

If you are in England, you should be able to arrange a meeting with the schools designated teacher for previously looked-after children (DT). This is a statutory role in every state school and should be an important point of contact throughout your child’s time at the school, involving you as parents in discussions around how Pupil Premium Plus will be used. Some schools in other nations will also have a member of staff in a similar role, so it’s worth asking.

Depending on your circumstances, you may also choose to meet with staff members responsible for special or additional educational needs, those with pastoral responsibility, and the school’s mental health lead.

While it is important that members of staff can answer your questions, it is perhaps even more important that they are able to hear what you have to say and take it on board. As you talk to members of staff, do you get the sense that they are really listening to what you have to say, and engaging with the questions you are asking? Are they interested in your child as an individual? Even if they can’t answer all your questions straight away, if you get a strong sense that they are willing to learn, be flexible and work with you as parents, then this could still be the start of a great relationship.

Before you meet with any members of staff, it is worth looking at the school’s website and reading the policies they have available there, including policies on inclusion, behaviour and wellbeing.

Bearing all of this in mind, here are a few questions as a starting point. Some of them might not be relevant to your child, but you can choose which ones are most likely to give you the information that will be important to you, as well as adding your own.

Has the school had relevant training? How recently?

While training on attachment, trauma, FASD and other relevant issues does not guarantee a trauma-informed school, it at least demonstrates that someone at the school has recognised the relevance and importance of understanding the issues.

How much experience does the school have with care-experienced children?

Obviously, all care-experienced and adopted children are individuals with individual needs, but a school with past experience may be more aware of the local and national strategies that are in place to support care-experienced students. However, a school with little experience but strong track-record in inclusion, relationships and flexible support may still be a great option.

How does the school use funding available to support care-experienced students?

The Care-Experienced Children and Young People’s Fund in Scotland, and the Pupil Development Grant in Wales can both be used to support the needs of previously looked after and adopted children. In England, Pupil Premium Plus is paid directly to schools for adopted children and amounts to £2,345 per child per year. The school’s use of the funding should demonstrate awareness of the potential for adverse early life experiences to impact on the attainment of care-experienced children.

What, if any, programmes are in place to support your child’s transition and induction?

Many schools operate an enhanced transition programme for newly-arriving children who are identified as needing additional support. You may also want to talk about transitions at the start and end of the school day.

How does the school use rewards and consequences?

It is rare to find a school that does not use these methods as part of strategies for behaviour. However, it is important to know how such policies interact with policies on inclusion and special or additional educational needs and whether reasonable adjustments are available for children with a history of trauma, with learning needs, with neuro-diverse conditions and with social, emotional and mental health needs. Ideally, a school will prioritise support over consequences, and relationships over rewards.

How does the school support good home-school communications?

You need to know how the school expects these communications to take place, through whom, and how often. Look for reassurance that communications will focus on positives as well as highlighting difficulties and challenges. Make sure you feel that you can build a good working relationship with your main point of contact.

What support is available during unstructured times?

Breaks and lunchtimes can often be flashpoints, so ideally a school will have support in place for children who may struggle. This might include nurture groups, extra-curricular activities, support with peer relationships, buddying schemes, and help with managing transitions from classroom to playground. If the school has received training on attachment and trauma, ask if non-teaching staff were included, as these will often be the members of staff supervising during these unstructured times.

How would the school deal with a specific situation?

Depending on your child’s needs, you may wish to raise specific scenarios and ask what the school’s response would be. What would happen if, for instance, your child ran out of the classroom, had a meltdown, became dissociated or refused to enter the school in the morning. Consider the school’s response, but also notice the thinking and assumptions underlying the response, and the amount of willingness to welcome your input as a parent with extensive experience of your child.

There are many other questions you could ask, including about bullying, homework, special and additional learning needs, extra-curricular activities and opportunities, but, as with so much else in life, it is the quality of relationships – between your child and the adults in school, and between yourself and the school – that will be the crucial factor in determining whether this is the right school for your child.

Visit our website for a selection of free resources for parents and teachers, including our popular ‘Welcoming an adopted child’ leaflets for nursery, primary and secondary school, and the booklet ‘Meeting the needs of adopted and permanently placed children’ – a guide for parents and carers of adopted children in education in England.

https://www.adoptionuk.org/free-information-downloads