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Call for better understanding of adopted children in schools

Published: 06.04.16

Adoption UK has been campaigning for a better understanding of the issues facing adopted children in schools so we are delighted that the government is to consider a number of changes to make life in the classroom better for adopted children.
Call for better understanding of adopted children in schools

One of these changes is extending the role of Virtual School Heads. Virtual Schools were set up in England to provide extra help for looked after children’s education. The Department for Education issued statutory guidance in July 2014 which requires the appointment of a Virtual School Head (VSH) in every local authority and the provision of a Personal Education Plan (PEP) for every child in care - but not for adopted children.

But following campaigning by Adoption UK and other individuals, the government will now look at extending the role of VSHs to include adopted children, as set out in the schools white paper Education Excellence Everywhere, which contains the government’s plans for the next five years.

Hugh Thornbery CBE, chief executive of Adoption UK, said: “Adopted children can be under local authority care one day and then adopted the next, so their needs do not change overnight. We’ve been asking for VSHs and the provision of a Personal Education Plan (PEP), subject to parental agreement, to be extended to every adopted child - as opposed to just those children in care, for some time now. We’re delighted that the government has listened to our campaign ask on this matter, although we are aware that nothing has yet been set in stone.”

The government white paper, published on 17 March 2016, also includes proposals to continue pupil premium plus funding and increase targeted support for looked after children and those who have been adopted from care or left care under special guardianship or a child arrangements order.

There are also proposals to improve the effectiveness of pupil premium spending in England.

Adoption UK has been calling for better use of pupil premium in England for some time, following instances where it was not used not as intended, such as purchasing new uniforms for adopted children in some schools.  We are also calling for issues of trauma, separation and loss to be included in the Initial teacher training (ITT) curriculum.

Mr Thornbery said: “It’s incredible, that at present, the ITT does not provide trainee teachers with an adequate understanding of these issues. We’re talking about some of the most vulnerable children in society who will have already experienced trauma and neglect in their early years. It’s not only adopted children who will have had these experiences, many in foster-care, living with kinship carers or even some of those living with birth parents will have experienced very difficult starts to their lives which will often show itself in withdrawn or disruptive classroom behaviour.

“Our members regularly tell us how their adopted children are penalised at school as a result of a lack of understanding from staff around their complex issues.  One parent told us how his adopted son was pinned down by three teachers at primary school.

“Adopted children’s early childhood experiences can often lead to behavioural, physical and emotional difficulties which play out in a school environment, which is not always attuned to their needs.

“There is the misconception that once a child is adopted their difficulties disappear. However this is not always the case and it’s the children who bear the cost of this lack of understanding, especially within the school setting.”

In a recent survey of our members 80% of adoptive parents said their child needs more or different support in school because of their early childhood experiences. Two thirds (66%) of parents told us the school their child attends, and/or their teacher, does not understand the impact of their child’s early life experiences or their ability to engage with education.

Mr Thornbery continued: “Adoption UK recognises the difficult and stressful job that teachers do. We acknowledge that disruptive pupils can wreck carefully planned lessons and curtail other classmates learning. So what we are hoping to achieve is a better understanding of the needs of adopted children in schools so that staff are aware as well as better equipped to meet those needs.”

Adoption UK welcomes significant progress within the education sector in England - including the extension of the Pupil Premium funding (PPf) to adopted children - but our research suggests that more than 40% of adoptive parents cannot ascertain from their school how the pupil premium is being used to benefit their child’s attainment.

Mr Thornbery added: “We were also delighted that the Welsh Assembly Government introduced arrangements to enable regional education consortia in Wales to support the education of former looked after children who are adopted through the Pupil Deprivation Grant. We will continue to press for parity for Northern Ireland and Scotland to ensure that all adoptive children - no matter where they live in the United Kingdom - receive the education support they need.”