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Adopted Children’s Experiences of School -The Results Are In - Research Findings April 2014

We surveyed over 1,500 adopters parenting 2,101 children about their experience of the education system in the UK. The rich information we gathered has enabled us a deeper understanding of the challenges some adopted children face and best practice in supporting adopted children in school. We are using the vital information parents provided us with to influence improvements in education systems across the UK. Below is a summary of the research findings and an outline of what we’re campaigning for as a result.

Why do adopted children need more support than their peers in school?

The majority of children adopted in England come from a background of abuse and or neglect. Adoption UK knows from its membership that adopted children frequently experience significant difficulties in school due to early trauma they may have experienced and schools have a key role to play in building brighter futures.

The ability to manage both academically and socially is crucial to succeeding in school. 71 per cent of parents surveyed said their child's experience of neglect and or abuse in their early life has impacted their ability to cope in school academically and three quarters (75 per cent) said it has an impact on their child’s social ability in school.

Due to the lasting impact of early life experiences 80 per cent of adopters said their child needs more support than their peers and nearly two thirds of parents (59 per cent) said their child is always trying to catch up in school and make up for their early life experiences.

Adoption alone will not always enable a child to overcome their difficult start in life, and many children will require ongoing additional support. However, the idea that adoption alone will transform a child’s life persists, with more than 3 in 4 parents telling us that some people expect their child to do well in school because they are now in a stable, loving family.

What challenges do adopted children face in education?  

Day to day, many adopted children face difficulties in school. The areas adopted children often struggle with compared with their peers include: concentrating in class, sitting still, forming positive friendships and social skills. More than a quarter of parents surveyed said their child regularly refuses to go to school.

43 per cent of parents said that their child’s school do not understand that their child has any problems because they’re overly compliant. Many adopted children become compliant as a result of early life trauma, they develop this approach as a coping mechanism to prevent further rejection. This behaviour can lead to further social difficulties.

 It is of significant concern that 2 per cent of children represented (43 children) have been permanently excluded from school. 1 in 5 of these children was aged six or younger and over half were permanently excluded during secondary school years. Whilst it is positive that most adopted children remain in school, this rate of permanent exclusion is three times the national average in England [1].

Nearly two thirds (65 per cent) of parents said their child’s school or teacher doesn’t understand the impact of their child’s early life experiences on their ability to engage in education. It is difficult for adopted children to achieve their potential in education if there is little understanding of the impact of their early life experiences. Therefore, Adoption UK is calling for better support and awareness training for teachers and education staff on adoption issues.

Although two thirds of parents surveyed do not feel that their child’s school or teacher understands the impact of their difficult start in life, nearly a quarter of parents reported that their child’s school and teacher have a good or very good understanding. Strong staff awareness of adoption and the right support in school can be transformative for many adopted children and we heard about good practice across the UK.

One adoptive parent said:

My daughter is now getting fantastic support in school which has meant working in partnership with her class teacher and Learning Support Assistant. Her positive experience at school is not only improving her ability to learn but supporting the therapeutic parenting that we're trying to do at home, boosting her self-esteem and giving her tools to self-regulate.

Why are the teenage years important?

The teenage years can be difficult for many young people. For adopted children challenges in the teenage years can be compounded by complications managing stress, change, and issues with their identity.

More than half of parents told us that their adopted child has always had problems in school but they got significantly worse in the teenage years. Nearly two thirds (64 per cent) of parents feel that the teenage years are or were the most difficult time for their child at school. This  highlights the need for extra support for adopted children during secondary school years.

One  adoptive parent said:

My two older children aged 12 and 16 have significant problems at school. The majority of my stress and worries as an adoptive parent involve education. On any school day I can take up to five phone calls about my children's behavior issues and resulting consequences. I have spent many hours in meetings aiming to educate and support schools about an adopted child's needs.

Pupil Premium and extra support in education

The Pupil Premium is additional funding for disadvantaged pupils in England, including some adopted children. It is aimed at narrowing the attainment gap between disadvantaged students and their peers. We lobbied Government to provide extra support for adopted children in school and  are encouraged that the Government has recognised the additional needs of adopted children and is responding by providing an extra £1,900 support each year for some adopted children in education.

We’re campaigning for support for adopted children in education to be extended

The Pupil Premium is only available in England for children adopted in the last eight years, since 31 December 2005. This research demonstrated that extra support in school is often most needed during the vulnerable teenage years. We estimate that almost 15,000 older adopted children in England will miss out on extra support next academic year due to the arbitrary pupil Premium cut-off date. We’re calling on policy makers in England to extend this support to all adopted children in education and we’re lobbying for similar support in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland [2].

What difference could Pupil Premium for older adopted children make?

An overwhelming 96 per cent of parents said that additional funding in school for adopted children could help teachers and staff to understand why adopted children often have additional needs.

 81 per cent of parents said £1, 900 extra funding would improve their child's attainment.

One adopter whose children received support said:

Both my adopted children enjoy school, but have struggled with low concentration, low self-esteem, poor social skills, lack of empathy, aggression. However, both have benefitted from positive play, individual education plans targeting both social and academic skills. Both are making fair progress in all aspects of school life, despite their early life experiences.

The right support in education can be transformative for adopted children and help build bright futures.

What happens next? Campaigning for change

We have been lobbying for extra support for adopted children in school. We are encouraged that policy makers in England have recognised the additional needs of adopted children and are responding  by providing some of these children with support through the Pupil Premium [2].

Our research demonstrates that it is often during the teenage years that adopted children struggle most in education. We are calling on policy makers in England to extend the Pupil Premium to all adopted children in education and we are lobbying for similar support to be made available in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. 

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[1] Permanent and fixed period exclusions from schools and exclusion appeals in England 2011/13

[2] For an update on the current provision of Pupil Premium and other developments in our work to campaign for support in Education in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, please visit our main Pupil Premium page.