Today’s post on ‘The Blog’ is from adoptive father Gareth who writes about Pupil Premium Plus…if your school is uninterested or unsupportive, do direct them to this article.
The Pupil Premium Plus
This is a new payment from central government to help adopted children and their parents. From April 2014, £1900 will be paid to schools for each adopted child in the school. In brief the eligibility criteria is –
- Adopted on or after 30/12/2005
- From reception to year 11
- Parent has declared the child’s status to the school
- School records this on the January School Census. (In 2014 by 16/01)
As we know many of our children have experienced grief, loss, and poor attachment in their early lives. 70% of those adopted in 2009/10 entered care due to abuse or neglect. It is now being recognised that our children don’t suddenly experience a miracle that makes everything all right when we adopt them. Their early experiences can have a lasting impact which may affect them for years after adoption. The Pupil Premium Plus (PP+) acknowledges that teachers and schools have vital role to play in helping our children emotionally, socially and educationally to raise their attainment and address their wider needs.
Schools are required to use PP+ ‘to improve the educational and personal outcomes’ for adopted children. It is not to ‘back fill the general school budget or be used to support other pupil groups such as those with special educational needs or low attainment’. The Department of Education’s announcement did not however specify how schools should use the premium beyond the above comments. They suggest that schools might use it for staff training or tailored support for a specific child. There might be other uses but it must be used for the benefit of our children. I understand that Ofsted will be checking the use of the PP+ in future inspections and will expect to see evidence of the PP+ resulting in improved outcomes for adopted children.
What can we do?
Well, not much if the school doesn’t talk to us! It is disappointing to see adoptive parents tweet that some schools won’t discuss the use of PP+ or that they will get ‘half price school trips’. I am sure that many schools will use the opportunity to work with adoptive parents to agree the best use of the funds for their children, but it is a pity that the D of E did not specify that schools should discuss this with us.
But what we can do is go and see the Head or the designated teacher and put forward suggestions. (Every school is required to have a designated teacher responsible for adopted and looked after children in the school. In a small school it might well be the head.) It would be disappointing if a school will not agree to a meeting. After all if they didn’t have our children they wouldn’t have the money.
My strong view is that all schools would benefit from expert training on caring for children with attachment difficulties and the effects of abuse and neglect. Our son is now 11 and came to us when he was 6 so has been through years 1 – 6 in the local primary school. We didn’t appreciate at first what he was going through at school. We knew something wasn’t right. We were told he talked too much, he couldn’t pay attention. His year 1 teacher gave him a ‘naughty book’ to mark down all the times he chatted or didn’t pay attention. He was bullied, but in a clever way. The bullies worked out that if they pushed him hard enough, he would react and they could then ‘tell’ on him. So he was then the ‘problem kid’ and we often had the class teacher/ head in the playground waiting at pick up time to tell us of another incident of his ‘bad’ behaviour. In year 3 he was cornered by 3 boys in the playing field and in defending himself scratched on of them near the eye. He was marched to the head’s office and sat outside on his own, frightened and in tears, whilst other children walked past him taking in the afternoon register. The school equivalent of medieval stocks.
That incident happened the last day of term. It took a couple of weeks to heal our son from the trauma. Every time he was hurt at school, when he went to bed that night, the horrors of his early abuse and neglect came back to double the hurt.
One might think that this is a poor school, with teachers failing their pupils, from the story so far. But it isn’t. The problem was being unaware of the way our son’s brain works, the different way he will react to bullying and to discipline and school life. He talks too much to fill his head with sound, as he doesn’t want the memories of the hell he came from to come in. He looks around all the time because he spent 4 ½ years not knowing where the next blow was coming from. Calling him ‘naughty’ or ‘bad’ confirms what he knows. He was a ‘naughty’ and ‘bad’ child as nobody wanted him. He struggled with maths because maths is either right or wrong and he desperately doesn’t want to be wrong. He spends time scanning his surroundings to check there are no unexpected threats. Moving from class, to lunch, to play, means more scanning and more punishment for ‘talking in line’.
After the ‘stocks’ incident I met the head and went into detail on the damage that had been done to our son. I also found out she was the designated teacher for adopted and LAC. I offered to help by speaking to her staff. To her credit she recognised where she had gone wrong, apologised, and agreed that I could speak at the next inset day. The talk had a real effect on the teachers. Some were in tears when they understood the damage poor attachment and early trauma and abuse has on a child’s developing brain and how their ways of managing children can cause further damage. After all most of them were mothers and became teachers because they wanted to help children, not hurt them.
I believe that teaching the teachers about the issues that arise from poor attachment, early abuse and neglect is the most effective way of helping our children have the best possible outcome from their time at school. The training should also be regular and for all staff who work with children. Our son is now in year 6 and there are new teachers, TAs and playground assistants who didn’t hear my talk 3 years ago. The cost should not be more than £500 for a ½ day session. Well within the PP+.
What have I done?
I am pleased to have made some progress locally. I took our head to an Adoption UK workshop in January. She welcomed refreshing and increasing her understanding. We are organising a day’s training for the September inset. Two sessions, one for teachers and TAs, one for all other staff who work with children. She also thinks that refresher sessions every 2 years will help. I managed to source a highly qualified training provider for the sessions.
As an independent member of the local adoption panel I regularly see matches where it is obvious that the adoptive parents are going to have issues to deal with when their new child goes to school. We provide a loving, secure and safe home to help heal hurt children and then when they are 4/5 they then move to a place that can be scary with people who do not understand them. PP+ can help all children like ours. Through panel contacts I have been able to meet with senior social workers and the Virtual Head for our Local Authority (LA) on the use of PP+. I was pleased with the progress we made. We agreed –
- The LA’s will be asked to send a letter to all adoptive parents on their records about PP+. The letter will encourage them to contact schools and ask to be involved in spending decisions for PP+, with a focus on teacher training. (I get to draft the letter!) We will ask for feedback on schools’ responses.
- We will build a list of training providers for adoptive parents and schools in the area to access.
- The virtual head is to try and set up central training for heads on attachment and vulnerable children.
Another breakthrough came last week when the head of children’s services for the LA announced that virtual heads will be responsible for adopted children from the date of matching to one academic year after the adoption order. (It helps that she is a care leaver and is passionate about education). Virtual heads are usually only responsible for Looked After Children, not adopted. This means that they will now work with new adoptive parents in finding schools, work with the school and be there when needed for continual help.
Further steps I would like to see are at a national level. I believe –
- Schools should be required to discuss with adoptive parents the use of PP+
- Teaching the teachers should be a national priority
- Virtual heads’ responsibility should be extended to adopted children nationally. Parents need support with schooling. Consideration should be given to PP+ funds being under the control of virtual heads rather than individual schools.
Finally, I presume the cut-off date of 30/12/2005 was due to costs, but all adoptive children need this help, so let’s ask government to extend PP+ to cover all adoptive children from reception to year 11.
I have written to Sir Martin Narey and he has promised to look into this. It would also be useful if our friends at Adoption UK and BAAF supported us in these initiatives with national government.
If our children succeed at school, they will succeed in life. Working in partnership with our children’s schools we can achieve this and PP+ is the fuel that can power this partnership.
I am an adoptive Dad and an independent member of a local adoption panel. My wife and I adopted our son when he was 6, my wife was 48 and I was 57. I recently had a recurrence of throat cancer so retired from the day job to develop a new career as a Barry White or Darth Vader impersonator (depends on the audience). My experience with our son and at panel has led me to focus on 2 key areas in adoption –
- Encouraging non-traditional adopters. Older, single, LGBT. Many of these are willing to take on harder to place children who are older, disabled, have learning difficulties or suffered major abuse. I was older, had had cancer, and an interesting life story but a great social worker backed us and we now have beautiful boy who is doing well.
- Working with schools. After our role as parents, schools have the most important effect on our children’s success in life and it is essential that we work together to give our children the best chances as members of society as they grow up.
If you’d like to know more, or support Gareth in anyway, please comment below, or contact Gareth via Twitter – @garethmarr or email at firstname.lastname@example.org