From Both Sides: Learning from education policy initiatives in England’s schools

This week, Adoption UK will publish From Both Sides – the latest in our series of Equal Chance reports on the education of adopted and previously looked after children.

Over the years, the Department for Education in England has attempted to improve outcomes for this group of children by including them in three policy initiatives originally designed for looked after children: pupil premium plus funding (PP+), designated teachers in every school, and an extension of the local authority virtual school role.

Yet the evidence for any positive impact of these initiatives for previously looked after children is thin on the ground. Only 40% of adoptive parents feel their child’s school is using PP+ funding effectively, and just 31% say their child’s school is transparent in its use of the funding.1

When Adoption UK surveyed over 200 designated teachers shortly after their role was expanded, 78% said that they had not been given any additional time, funding or resources to support them in their newly expanded role, and 45% had not received any additional training.2

Conversations about education support for adopted and previously looked after children can easily become emotionally charged, with stressed teachers and stressed parents and, in the middle, the children and young people themselves, more than half of whom felt they didn’t receive the support they needed in school.3

These children urgently need solutions to the challenges they face in education, but they must be solutions that work for everybody: the teachers and other education professionals, the parents and guardians and the children and young people themselves.

With this in mind, Adoption UK brought together a small but passionate group of education professionals who are also adoptive parents to look at the challenges with their ‘from both sides’ perspective. We expected that the result would be a series of best practice ideas and innovative solutions, and that did happen, but what we also discovered was that to understand why the well-intentioned policies do not seem to be having the positive effect we all hope for, we need to dig deeper into the barriers and challenges involved in their implementation.

The focus group participants told us that they didn’t always have the information they needed about children, or about the use of PP+ funding in their own schools. The way funding is administered, two terms in arrears, made it difficult to plan and it was hard to find any guidance about the most effective ways to use it. The statutory guidance for virtual schools was quite limited and vague leading to different levels of provision in different areas. Designated teachers were too often attempting to fulfil this role while also having other responsibilities and a teaching timetable and, unless the whole school was on board with trauma-sensitive approaches, the impact of the role was limited.

Crucially, the linchpin of educational oversight for looked after children – the statutory Personal Education Plan – which provides a framework for regular planning and monitoring, is completely missing for previously looked after children. Without it, there is no consistent approach to assessing needs, planning and implementing support, linking PP+ to individual children’s support needs, hearing the views of the child, or monitoring outcomes.

From Both Sides brings Adoption UK’s previous research among adoptive parents, adopted young people and adults and education professionals together with the findings of the From Both Sides focus group. The result is a report which explores the challenges in the system, and also begins to consider some of the possible solutions. It is not the end of the story. We still need to learn more and do more, but From Both Sides is an important step in moving the conversation on from describing the problems to achieving the solutions.



  1. Adoption UK. Adoption Barometer 2021. 2021. [ashx (]
  2. Adoption UK. Top of the Class. 2019 [ashx (]
  3. Adoption UK. Better Futures. 2020 [ashx (]