By Anne Cameron, Programme Manager, Achievement for All
Adoption UK has recently reported that adopted children feel that their teachers do not fully understand their needs. They can feel confused and worried at school with 47% of primary aged children and two thirds of secondary aged children experiencing bullying because they are adopted.
Due to these findings, Adoption UK is calling for a new continuing professional development programme to help teachers support these pupils and has suggested schools adopt a designated governor or trustee to take responsibility.
Previously looked after and adopted children are now included in the statutory guidance for Designated Teachers and Virtual schools (published February 2018), an inclusion very much welcomed by Achievement for All.
It’s clear that a change in care status does not automatically negate the impact of previous experience of trauma, neglect and/or unmet attachment needs, even when a child is placed in a loving, stable, therapeutic family. We know that trauma is also experienced in the womb and that it’s long-term effects can be significant, impacting on a child’s development and journey into adulthood.
Adoptive parents are increasingly prepared and supported to manage this but all too often, schools can be underprepared and may not even know that they have adopted or previously looked after children on roll. Research shows that 28% of children in adoptive families experience significant social, emotional and mental health difficulties and that 50% need educational psychology involvement.
What needs to be done?
It’s essential that schools are aware of the need to invite adoptive parents or special guardians to make the status of the child in their care known so that Pupil Premium Plus funding can be accessed and used to improve outcomes for that child.
It’s essential that adoptive parents and special guardians access the educational advice and guidance now available to them through the Designated Teacher and Virtual school. It’s essential that schools know how to make the best use of Pupil Premium Plus funding and specialist support in order to promote a whole school culture where the personalised learning needs of looked after and previously looked after children (including their personal, emotional and academic needs) are prioritised in order to improve wellbeing and attainment.
The wellbeing and mental health of previously looked after children also needs to be heavily considered and it’s vital that schools are supported to recognise and respond to the fact that due to circumstances before being adopted or permanently placed, children can have issues trusting the adults and others around them. This can make it difficult for them to form relationships with peers and also to cope with transition and change.
SEND in the form of speech and language difficulties, learning delays, sensory processing disorder is more prevalent in this cohort and the ability to self-regulate and manage emotion can severely impact mental health and wellbeing. A lack of developed executive functioning skills will often mean a child who has experienced trauma finds it difficult to engage with school routines and expectations and fall foul of behaviour policies that aren’t sufficiently flexible to respond appropriately to individual need.
Adoption UK’s new findings are concerning and I support the need for more teaching training in this area. Through both our core and specialist coaching programmes, Achievement for All supports and challenges educational settings to identify gaps in their skill and provision around learners who are vulnerable to disadvantage. We embed practice that helps to dismantle barriers to achievement and work more effectively in partnership with parents, carers, Virtual Schools and other agencies to level the playing field for children and young people most in need of our collective focus and support.