Helping our children at school – a breakthrough in support from Local Authority

Today Gareth Marr brings us an update on his work with local authorities and their use of Pupil Premium Plus.

It is pleasing to report good news. Since pupil premium plus was launched for adopted children in schools I have been on a personal campaign to try and get schools to work with adoptive parents on the best way to spend this money. Adoption Social has been a great help by publishing two previous blogs which I have then used to communicate with Children Services at my Local Authority (LA). They can be accessed here

The LA could not have been more supportive and receptive to my ideas. I have been appointed a governor of the Virtual School and on Monday this week I spoke at a conference for Heads and Designated Teachers on the new support being launched for adopters and their children. The full text of my speech is below but before reading it and getting confused by the jargon of education services the following guide might be useful for adopters and prospective adopters. A caveat – this is my understanding from local experience. It may vary around the country.

Educating our children

When a child of school age is taken into care the LA, as corporate parent, has responsibility for that child’s education. This continues after placement until the adoption order is granted when the adopted parent becomes responsible. The LA meets its responsibility through a ‘Virtual School’ (VS). The school has no classrooms but has Virtual School Heads (VSHs) who work with foster carers and the schools in the LA attended by children in care (CIC). The VSHs are usually experienced senior teachers and ex heads who understand the needs of CIC and the education system.DSC_0370

Each school is required to have a Designated Teacher (DT) responsible for the CIC in the school. In small schools the DT is often the Head Teacher.  When the child first goes to their new school the VSH will work with the child’s social worker and the DT to develop a Personal Education Plan (PEP) for the child. At the initial PEP meeting the needs of the child and the support required will be agreed. The child’s current educational standards will be confirmed and future targets set. The PEP is then reviewed regularly, usually half yearly, at a formal PEP meeting. The Pupil Premium (PP) for CIC is controlled by the VS and schools need to apply for funding the required support for their pupils. There are many possible interventions including: 1:1 tuition, paired reading, after school club, homework club, teaching assistant hours, laptop, home tutoring, equipment and resource, staff training, psychological assessment and support etc.

All of this support recognises the help that CIC might need because of their traumatic backgrounds. But until recently the system seemed to assume that the child is miraculously cured of all the ills from their previous life when adopted. My LA has recognised that adopted children and their parents need support at school and it is this new initiative that was launched this week. I am aware that some other LAs also support adopted children, but as they are not required to do so, this support is patchy.

A recommendation for new adopters. If your child is of school age, get your SW to obtain the PEP from the previous school and see if you can get a meeting with the VSH and DT at the school to get as much detail as you can on current school support and the child’s performance. Ask to see the VSH in your LA to help you with the new school. Remember they are still responsible until the adoption order.

The conference

The LA is the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM) and attending were nearly 60 Heads and DTs from local schools. The Director of Children Services is Alison Alexander and she opened the conference with some really powerful statements.

Expectation: All CIC achieve higher outcomes than their non care peers.

Why: Our children deserve a better life and they have to be able to achieve it alone and forever

Measure myself: Every young person leaves our care as successful economically independent adults.

How: Theoretically they have the might of the whole system behind them!”

Alison then set out the needs of adopted children, many similar but some different.

She closed with her personal story as a child in care, a care leaver and now a DCS. For her it was education and the key support of individuals that believed in her that made the difference.

My role was then to explain why adopted children need support, what is going to be provided and how. The full text of my speech is below.


RBWM Virtual School extends support to cover Adopted Children, Children Subject to SGOs, and Children at the Edge of Care.

 Speech to RBWM Virtual School Designated Teachers Conference, Moor Hall, Cookham 9th June 2014 by Gareth Marr, Governor RBWM Virtual School, Adoptive Parent.


My talk today is about the new service from the Virtual School for adopted and other potentially vulnerable children.

I am an adoptive parent, our son came to us at age 6, he is now 11, and has been through years 1 – 6 in a local primary school

I am a member of the Berkshire Adoption Panel which approves new adoptive parents and matches between children in care and adopters.

I have recently been appointed a governor of the RBWM Virtual School, representing adopter’s families.

As part of caring for our son I have studied the effect of early life trauma on children, attachment difficulties and their effect on children’s performance in school.

Why the new support?

Children in Care are already supported by the Virtual School working with Designated Teachers, recognising the help these children need. This is a successful partnership. Impressive RBWM key stage 2 SATs forecast for 2014 indicate above national average results.

Virtual School support is now to be extended to adopted children, children subject to Special Guardianship Orders, and children at the edge of care.


As with CIC the majority will have suffered early life trauma and the effects can be long lasting.

It is very hard to understand what we mean by neglect, abuse etc.  Neglect here doesn’t mean not getting your 5 a day or forgetting to do a packed lunch. I know some of the abuse my son suffered but because I wasn’t there I could never really understand the effect of it. But I understood more when I saw this video.

Show video ‘Removed’

What you have just seen is nothing compared to what some children we are dealing with right now have suffered. Just reading the papers for adoption panel can bring me to tears. Our son was starved, neglected, subject to and witnessed violence and torture for the first 4.5 years of his life. Children are abused before birth with mothers using alcohol, hard drugs and cigarettes. Others are sexually abused.

We are all quite rightly outraged and full of sympathy when headlines scream of children dying at the hands of their abusive families. However, there is much less sympathy for the children fortunate enough to be ‘saved’, who are taken into care or adopted and then act out their distress in anti-social or challenging ways as they grow older. (1)

Perhaps you would too, in similar circumstances. Many of the behaviours shown by traumatised children in care are a direct (and rational) response to their experiences. Would you be able to relax and ‘fit in’ if you didn’t know how long you were going to stay somewhere? In a place where the sounds and smells and expectations of you were very different from those you previously knew? When you don’t really understand why you are there and why the only people you knew are no longer around you and possibly gone for good? If you had been let down by the people who were supposed to keep you safe, would you find it easy to trust people again and to allow them to take control of your life? (1)

As an adult in these circumstances, it would seem good sense to be wary of new people and not get too attached to them; to be hyper-vigilant and always watching out for danger and new threats to your wellbeing; to be self-sufficient and resist the help of others if you can’t be sure you can trust them. And yet, society seems to expect children to just be happy to have a new family, to forget what went before and to embrace their new family life with as little fuss as possible. (1)

We are often told our son is ‘lucky’ to be with us. Now I understand no offense is meant, but I after what he has been through ‘lucky’ somehow just doesn’t fit. ‘Lucky’ children are those that don’t have to go into care, don’t have to be adopted.

Adoption cannot wipe away over night the emotional and physical damage caused by years of trauma and neglect. Nor does it repair brain damage, reignite cognitive brain function or even miraculously cure delays in brain development. (2) But our children can be healed or at least helped to learn how to cope with the demons from their early life. Adoptive parents are  ‘therapeutic parents’, trained to help their children understand that they can be safe, they will be loved no matter what and to gently help them through the inevitable distressing times and upsetting behaviours. But it does take time. Even after 5 years we can still see the fragility within our outwardly bright and confident boy.

A safe and secure home is not however enough. Our role is also to help our children find their place in society and achieving their potential future citizens. We cannot do this alone. A good education experience is essential. The most successful outcomes for our children will come from a supportive partnership between adoptive parents, carers and the school.

The following details came from a new extensive DfE research report ‘Beyond the Adoption Order: challenges, interventions and adoption disruption’. April 2014

210 adoptive parents from 13 LAs and 180 Adoption UK members were asked how their adoptions were going:

  • Just over one-third reported few difficulties.
  • 30 per cent said life was good but they were facing challenges.
  • About a quarter of parents described major challenges with children who had multiple and overlapping difficulties. Many were struggling to get the right support in place. Parents reported that they were physically and mentally exhausted and that there had been a negative impact on marital and family relationship

Between 1 April 2000 and 1 July 2012, 565 children were known to have had a post-order adoption disruption.

  • Nearly two-thirds occurred during the secondary school years; children were on average 12.7 years when they left their families (range 1.7 years – 17 years).
  • The majority (57 per cent) of the disruptions occurred five or more years after the making of the Adoption Order.

Many of the challenges described and disruptions that occurred can be directly related to the child’s difficulties in coping with school. Often they do not appear until a child goes to school. When infants and toddlers are adopted they are immediately surrounded by love, safety and security. It is when they leave that environment and enter in to the big scary world full of strangers that is school that the demons from the past return. And this is precisely why this new initiative is so important. It is also important to get the support in the primary years to give the child the best chance in secondary school. If adoption doesn’t succeed what happens to the children?


“While those in the care system account for just one percent of children, a quarter of those in prison were in care as children”

 David Cameron. Speech to the Centre for Social Justice 22nd October 2012

We can break the cycle of neglect and abuse by working together and saving our children from this bleak future. My son was abused by his birth family, his mother was abused by her family, her mother by her family. Three generations of abuse. What chance did they have? It stops now with my son and with your help.            

 So what is the new initiative?

Personal Education Plans for Adopted Children

All existing adoptive parents in the LA will be offered a PEP for their children. Parents will be written to via the school and every school that has applied for the Pupil Premium for adopted children will get this communication. Parents will be invited to training on PEPs and can then decide if they want to proceed. It is not expected all adopted parents will take this up. It is their choice and some may well be happy with the way their child is getting on at school.

The parent and the DT will then have their first PEP meeting. RBWM is introducing new electronic PEPs so the information required can be gathered before the meeting. The VSH will be available if required to assist at this meeting.

At the PEP meeting the following will be covered –

  • Full details of the child’s current educational performance.
  • An assessment of the child’s needs and how he/she will be supported.
  • Use of the Pupil Premium to support the child discussed.
  • Targets for future performance set.
  • Review meetings agreed (six monthly)

The PEP then becomes the tool for monitoring the child’s continued needs and the impact of the support. The aim as with CIC is for adopted children to achieve higher outcomes than the other children in the class. The PEP is also a useful medium for passing information on as the child transitions for year to year and at the end of key stage 2. The VSH will have access to the electronic PEPs and use the data to report to the Virtual School Board of Governors.

New adoptions and new school entrants

If the child was in education prior to placement the VSH will obtain the child’s PEP from the previous school. The VSH will be available to help with school selection and introduction to the designated teacher. She will brief the parents on the PEP process and help set up the first electronic PEP. She will also assist in discussions on uses of the pupil premium.

Attachment training for schools in autumn term 2014.

Let me test you on how a child with attachment issues might be affected in your class.

Where would you sit this child?

Why might the child struggle with Maths more than literacy?

What difficulties might arise at lunchtime?

By understanding how poor or no attachment to a primary carer in early life can affect a child’s developing brain you can better appreciate the ways these children can be helped to succeed. RBWM aims to have all school staff trained on attachment issues. This will include TAs, playground assistants and governors as well as teachers. This is going to be a big task and currently the details are being worked out. We are meeting with Adoption UK’s training manager next week on this as we plan to use their trainers and existing resource for this training.

We are considering three events in different locations for all school leadership teams and DTs. Part of these events will be to create ‘attachment champions’ who will then take the training out to all the LAs schools and establish regular refresher training.


There is a good record in the LA of the partnership between schools and the virtual school achieving results. At present schools have a legal responsibility towards children in care – but not once they are adopted. But as I have said, fairy dust is not sprinkled on adopted children so that it is a happy ever after life with their new family. Their needs are not likely to change overnight from those of Children in Care, even if they appear to be well-attached.

Research shows that adoption provides the best outcome for children who have been taken into care. There is a revolution going on in adoption in the UK. The whole process is being streamlined, new adopters are being recruited and we are seeing a big increase in children from traumatic backgrounds being placed with their new forever families. Our children and their parents really need your support in achieving the most successful outcomes possible. More than anything else it will be the partnership between parents and schools that will change our children’s lives forever, break the cycle of neglect and abuse and produce the successful pupils and adults we can all be proud of. I am so pleased that Alison and her team have realised the need to support us. It is great to be a part of this new initiative which will make a real difference to the lives of many adopters and their children in the borough.

When planning this we looked at the scope of the initiative. It was agreed that the Virtual School would cover: all CIC, Children at the edge of care, Adopted Children, Children with SGOs. Great, but so many labels! Let’s just call them special children.

A story to show how special they can be. My son age 7 was sitting with a group of boys in the middle of the playing field all listening to their football coach. Beside me at the edge of the field a young boy was having a breakdown with his mother as he didn’t want to join the group. My son got up, walked over, spoke to the boy, took him by the hand and walked him to the group and sat down with him. The Mum couldn’t believe it. How could I explain that it was because our son was:

  • Hyper attentive. He needs to know what is happening all the time.
  • Doesn’t like seeing children in distress. Saw much of it in his previous life.
  • Knows how to parent. When 4 he cared for a 2 year old.

But what a wonderful way to use his history for good.

Thank you for the all the good work I know you are going to do to help these special children and for listening to me.

Acknowledgements (1) Adoption UK Factsheet 19. What every teacher needs to know. (2) Adoption is not a quick fix.

After thoughts

The teachers received these messages well. There were some tears after the video and they really understood why adopted children need support. Many were aware of adopted children in their schools and thought introducing PEPs was a great idea. They especially welcomed the proposed attachment training. My son’s head was there and told the delegates how AUK attachment training had really opened her eyes to the need for support.

What next?

The new initiatives will be put in place in the LA over 2014. RBWM is one of six LAs in Berkshire and the adoption panel covers all six. I want to use the example of RBWM and my contacts at panel to persuade the other LAs to do the same. But why can’t this go national? It is plain daft that all the good support for Children in Care just stops when they are adopted. It also doesn’t cost much. In RBWM one VSH is working another day a week to cover adopted children. When the work locally is progressed I would like to campaign for this approach nationally. Adoption UK and Sir Martin Narey have already engaged with me on this and with their and other’s support I believe we can make this life changing difference for our children.

Please let me know what your experience is and any ideas as to how we get this moving nationally.

You can contact Gareth Marr via:-

TWITTER @garethmarr 






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