As thousands of pupils receive their GCSE results today, three adopted siblings who carved out successful careers despite not doing well at school, hope their stories will encourage others in the same boat.

Government research shows that adopted children in England do significantly less well than their classmates at GCSE level.

Adoption UK has also found that they are much more likely to be excluded and twice as likely to not be in employment, education or training (NEET) as their peers. The figures were revealed in our recent Adoption Barometer report (2 July), which drew its findings from a survey of more than 3,500 families across the UK. Many adopted children struggle at school due to a difficult start in life. Early childhood neglect and abuse can have a significant impact on their development, behaviour and relationships, even after being placed in a stable and loving home.

Adopted siblings Adam, Siobhan and Sian describe their GCSE results as “disappointing”. But all of them have gone on to build an impressive future for themselves. 

Adam, aged 34 and living in Nottingham, is now head of sales at a £110m business. He said: “My results were bang average, so I decided further education wasn’t for me and instead went straight into work. Alongside my job I’ve been able to gain two post graduate diplomas and I’m now embarking on a master’s degree."

Siobhan, also from Nottingham, always knew she was “smart” but struggled with exams because of dyslexia. “I was left with little confidence in my own skills and abilities,” the 31-year-old recalls.

Siobhan’s first job was monotonous and unfulfilling. But when she was asked to help out on an analytics team, Siobhan discovered a natural ability. She ended up becoming a full-time business analyst and now works in that role for a children’s charity. She said: "If you’d asked my school-teachers if I’d ever become an analyst they’d have said ‘no way’. I wish I could be transported back in time so I could tell my 16-year-old self: ‘You can still go on to great things’.”

Despite not flourishing at school, Sian, 31 and living in Sheffield, is now head of marketing and communications at a theatre. She says: “You’re not defined by the hour-or-so you spend in an exam hall.”

Rebecca Brooks, Adoption UK’s education policy advisor, is an adoptive parent and a former teacher.  She said: “In the current school environment, many adopted children are barely surviving, let alone thriving. Being able to cope with school is often a huge achievement in itself, regardless of the grades.  The root of the problem is an education system that prizes exam results at the expense of wellbeing. It will take leadership from governments and schools to turn this around.”

The charity’s Equal Chance Campaign calls on the government to rethink the way schools educate the most vulnerable children and address a shortfall in support needed in classrooms.