The new statutory Schools Admissions Code, which will come into effect from September 2021, contains a welcome change that Adoption UK has been campaigning for and which will be significant for families with children adopted from outside of England.

The new Code will extend the right to priority admissions to school places in England to include children adopted from state care outside of England, including from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and internationally, aligning the legal rights of internationally adopted children more closely with those adopted domestically.

Paragraph 1.7 of the new Code (available to view online) states that the highest priority in schools’ oversubscription criteria must be given to “looked after children, and all previously looked after children, including those children who appear (to the admission authority) to have been in state care outside of England and ceased to be in state care as a result of being adopted”.

School admission authorities will deem a child to have been in state care if they were in the care of a public authority, a religious organisation, or any other provider of care whose purpose is to benefit society.

Additional non-statutory guidance has been published by the Department for Education to support admission authorities to fulfil this new duty towards children adopted from countries other than England.

The guidance acknowledges that providing evidence of a child’s adoption and prior experience of being in care can sometimes be sensitive and emotive and directs admission authorities to consider a range of evidence and be flexible where little formal documentation exists. Examples of suitable supporting evidence include Article 23 Certificates and Article 16 Reports (for Hague convention adoptions) as well as adoption certificates, other official court documents, and letters and reports from agencies who may have been involved in the prior care of the child.

Admission authorities are directed to work closely with the Virtual School Head (VSH) in establishing a child’s previously looked after and adopted status. Where an internationally adopted child has previously been in education (including early years education) and the VSH has already established their previously looked after and adopted status, this should not need to be evidenced again to a new admissions authority if the child is changing school.

In practice, this means that children who have been adopted from care internationally and from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, will now be given highest priority in over subscription criteria during the normal admissions round (usually Reception and Year 7) and will be guaranteed a place at the preferred school, alongside looked after, previously looked after and domestically adopted children. This will apply to all maintained schools in England, including academies.

Outside of the normal admissions round (e.g. changing schools mid-year, or entering a new school not in the normal entry year – normally Reception or Year 7), children who have been adopted from care internationally will now be automatically placed at the top of the waiting list if the class is full, alongside other looked after and previously looked after children.

Adoption UK has been campaigning on this issue for several years, recommending this change in several reports including The Adoption Barometer 2019. We are delighted to see that the DfE has made this change, which is a significant step forward, but we will continue to campaign until support for internationally adopted children in education is fully brought into line with that offered to domestically adopted children.