Tag Archives: pp+

Gareth Marr – Our Adoption Warrior

This week the online adoption community has been deeply saddened by the passing of one of our adoption warriors, Gareth Marr.

Here at The Adoption Social, the news came as a huge shock; Gareth was such a large character in our community, and a friend we had met on a number of occasions at adoption conferences. It has made me think about the man who was always spotlessly turned out and full of ideas and thoughts on any discussion we were holding on TAS, or on the day at those conferences. He was full of enthusiasm for anything that challenged the establishment on their ability to support adopted children. A father of an adopted child himself, our heart goes out to his family at this difficult time.

Gareth was always very supportive of The Adoption Social and wrote for us on many an occasion. If you want to know a little bit more about this man, we can let him tell you more with his “Meet Me” post.  I love that as a pastime he says he enjoys spending time with his son; conkers was that week’s activity, he also had a fine taste in music.

So if we look at posts that Gareth wrote for us, for those that don’t know, his passion was ensuring support for adopted children in education. It comes as no surprise that his first post for us, about the pupil premiums plus, is almost the most viewed post on our site, Helping Our Children at School – Using the Pupil Premium Plus. I think Gareth would find it amusing that the post that pips him to the top spot is our post about pixilating a picture.

 He wrote other posts about education for us and worked tirelessly with his local authority, Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, to affect change where he lived, with the hope that this would create a bench mark for other LA’s to achieve.

 If that was not enough, he also supported others trying to affect positive change around adoption. As trustees for The Open Nest charity, we can’t thank him enough for his donation of signed Pink Floyd vinyl, which raised the largest single donation for the charity of £4000.

 A light has gone out in our community but I’m sure he would not want us to feel too sad, instead we must feel confident in fighting for the rights of our children and all those involved in adoption.

 Rest peacefully Gareth Marr.

Helping Our Children at School – Using the Pupil Premium Plus

Today Garreth Marr delivers an update on the excellent work he is doing on using the Pupil Prememium Plus….

The money is coming

In my last article I set out the background to PP+ and my belief that:

  • Schools should discuss with adoptive parents the best use of PP+ in helping our children.
  • That training for teachers in caring for adopted children who have suffered abuse and neglect is a priority.
  • The responsibility of a Virtual School Head (VSH) should be extended to cover adopted children in schools as well as looked after children.

The article can be accessed here:


I was touched by the response from the wonderful twitter adoption community. There were useful suggestions of training providers, but sadly also stories of unhelpful schools with children and parents struggling to be understood. As PP+ funding will start in the summer term I thought the upcoming Easter holiday might be a useful time to plan contact with school, especially if you haven’t tried yet or not had a good response. Hopefully the following will help.

Government support.

I am grateful to Sir Martin Narey for his prompt response to my last article. He obtained a very useful response from the Department for Education (DfE) on PP+ and schools’ accountability. The DfE confirmed-

“Mr Marr is right in that the guidance does not prescribe specific purposes for which schools should use their pupil premium funding. This is on the grounds that schools are best placed to determine how to use the funding to improve educational outcomes of eligible pupils. Schools are, however, accountable for the use and impact of the pupil premium on the achievement of their disadvantaged pupils. Specifically, the Department makes it clear in the guidance that:

 i) schools are required to publish online a pupil premium statement giving their total pupil premium budget each year, how the money has been spent and the impact of that expenditure on disadvantaged pupils

 ii) schools are held accountable through Ofsted inspections

 iii) where Ofsted has serious concerns about the attainment of pupil premium-eligible pupils, a school will be required to undertake a Pupil Premium review in order to review its strategy for improving the achievement of disadvantaged pupils;

 iv) schools should be engaging with evidence on what works in raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils – for example, by using the teaching and learning toolkit produced by the Education Endowment Foundation.

 The Department’s main guidance for schools on the pupil premium can be found at:https://www.education.gov.uk/schools/pupilsupport/premium/b00231348/pupil-premium-information-for-schools-and-ap-settings

 Schools should take steps to improve the educational outcomes of children adopted from care when deciding how to spend the pupil premium. Given the complex and multiple needs that some adopted pupils will have, schools will need to consider how best to improve outcomes for those pupils. In some cases, this will mean supporting them to improve outcomes beyond their academic attainment. children's feet

 To help them, we are encouraging schools to seek guidance from organisations and agencies, such as BAAF and Adoption UK, that have expertise around the wider needs of children adopted from care.  In addition, virtual school heads (VSHs) at local authority level, whose role it is to champion the educational achievement of children who are looked after, will work with schools to help ensure that those children benefit fully from the additional funding pupil premium provides.

 A number of VSHs already include information about the needs of children adopted from care in their work with schools.  Given that the learning challenges faced by looked after children will not disappear as soon as they are adopted, we shall encourage all of them to share that practice and act as a source of advice and information.  In this way we hope schools can maximise the benefits of this funding for pupils who have been adopted from care. 

 Finally, Mr Marr will also be interested to know that jointly with Department of Health, we have commissioned NICE to develop clinical guidance on attachment which should help professionals (including schools) fully understand the issues that can affect adopted children’s behaviour and health.”

 This is really useful guidance from the DfE. It shows the detail that schools will be required to provide on PP+ spending and the way they will be held accountable through Ofsted inspections. The paragraph I have highlighted sends a powerful message to schools.  My own feelings are that:

  •  Good schools will already be engaging with adoptive parents on how best to use PP+. (Check out the website mentioned in the DfE response to see how Pakeman Primary School sets a brilliant example on PP+ practice.) The problem will be with those who are not addressing our children’s needs now, and very often don’t think they need any help. After all they are teachers and have dealt with problem children for years haven’t they?
  • The accountability only works after a school has failed and been subject to an Ofsted report. There could therefore be plenty time to spend our childrens’ PP+ on school trips for all whilst trauma continues in class and playground.
  • The Virtual School Head should be used more. The VSH is responsible for the education of Looked After Children (LAC) in the care of the Local Authority. They are in touch with the schools where LAC are and agree personal education plans with the school. Children are still ‘looked after’ at placement until the adoption order is granted in court. Therefore all new adoptive parents should be put in touch with the VSH to help initially with school selection and settling in. The VSH will have understanding and experience of attachment and trauma and can help to make the school aware of strategies to care for our children. I wish we had that help when our little frightened 6 year old boy went to his nice C of E village primary school and got a ‘naughty book’ in his first month.

PPWhat next?

At School

The school head is key to getting things done. Sending the head some of the information in this article (especially the highlighted paragraph above from the DfE) and requesting a meeting to discuss the use of PP+ could be a good way to start.  Every school should have a designated teacher responsible for adopted and LAC. In small schools this could be the head. If not find out whom the designated teachers are and meet with them.

Prepare for the meeting. Adoption UK has a brilliant fact sheet ‘What every teacher needs to know’. It makes very clear the reasons our children can struggle in school and ways to care for them. AUK members can down load it here:


If you send this to your school and don’t get a good response it may be time to be looking for another school!

AUK also publishes ‘Education Now’. The best £4.95 you will ever spend on understanding the whole subject of caring for our children in school. It’s available here –


What you can achieve will often depend on the funding available. If your child is the only one for which the school receives PP+ it might be that training for teachers is the best option. The PP+ is £1900, a half day training session should cost less than half that. If the school has a number of children receiving PP+ the money could fund a trained TA to work with the children or pay for external therapeutic help.

If you do not get a good response from the school head the next step is to write to the Chair of the Governors. I would advise you keep records of your attempts to get the school to help if you anticipate communication problems. The final and very sad option is to move school, but if we can get our childrens’ schools to care it will avoid yet another difficult transition. If you do need to move schools you might want to let Ofsted know. You can file a report (anonymously if you wish) on the Ofsted website.

Local Authorities

At adoption panel I see many matches with 0 – 3 year old children being placed where it is obvious from the child’s history that their experience of disattachment, neglect and abuse will result in challenges later. Their new parents will provide them with the love and security to start healing and building new attachment. Then at age 4/5 these special precious children are placed into a new and scary environment with strangers to look after them. It is then the parents and children need support and the VSH is not available at that stage.

It seems obvious to extend the VSH’s role further. They are working with the schools already. They will know the schools in the area that have proven record of caring for children with attachment difficulties. There could be a situation where the VSH is working with looked after children in the same school where adoptive children need support but are not getting it.

The VSH works in the children services department of the local authority. The concept is to have a ‘virtual school’ in the LA where all children in care are looked after together for their education needs by the VSH working with the schools. The key tool used is the Personal Education Plan (PEP) that is agreed between the VSH and the school. The PEP will set out all the child’s needs and agree how these are to be met at the school as well as setting the expected achievable academic targets for the child. The link below shows an example of a PEP in use with LAC in Bristol. It is very detailed, covering all the child’s needs including the way the Pupil Premium is spent.


It is now recognised that when a child is placed with adopters fairy dust isn’t suddenly sprinkled to make everything sweet and nice. Our children have come direct from care and additionally had the further trauma of another transition. Our children need the same support in school and a PEP for every adopted child would make a major contribution to improving their education outcomes.

My Local Authority.

I had a meeting with the Director of Childrens’ Services and the VSH for primary schools at my LA last week. I managed to get the meeting through connections I have built up with child protection services at adoption panel (and being a bit pushy!). The meeting was a real breakthrough. One of those moments of serendipity where one sees that dreams might come true.

I live in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. Many will know of one dysfunctional family that lives in the area, but there are plenty others not living in castles that need real help. The Adoption Panel covers all of Berkshire and that includes Slough and Reading where social services have real challenges. The Director of Children services is Alison Alexander, and it was her immediate response to my points that so impressed me. Alison is a care leaver herself and passionate about education being key to successful outcomes for children in or from care. See the Guardian article below.


Alison agreed the following actions:

  • All schools in the LA will have Personal Education Plans for adopted children, agreeing these with their parents in the same way as currently happens with LAC and VSHs. The PEP will cover all the child’s needs in school and give the parents the opportunity to discuss with the designated teacher matters such as training and therapeutic support.
  • The VSH will cover all adopted children when they first enter school to assist parents in managing what can be a difficult transition at age 4/5. This follows Alison’s previous extension of the VSH role to cover adopted children for one academic year post court order.
  • Research on the schools in the LA that have included adopted children on the January census. This will show which schools will receive the Pupil Premium Plus and how much.  It will also create a list of schools with whom to discuss the new PEPs for adopted children.
  • The LA holds a conference for designated teachers in June and this year will include the following:
    • The launch of the new PEPs for adopted children explaining how they will work in practise.
    • Recommended uses for PP+ including training, therapeutic support and developing a school environment that helps our children.
    • Compliance with the new Ofsted requirements on PP+ and that failure to comply could cause problems for the school and the head.
    • I will be seconded to the board of the Virtual School to assist the development of the PEPs and the planning for the conference. I would also like to look at working up a template with the VSHs for an ‘attachment friendly’ school that can be used as a benchmark.

At the end of the meeting Alison said, “I want to see our children over achieve in school”. I plan to make how to get there the theme of the conference.

These are significant steps and as the adoption services covers all of Berkshire I would hope to get these actions moving in the other four LAs in the county. Lots of work to do, but a really encouraging start.


The support from the DfE for improving adoption services and outcomes for our children is undoubtedly strong. It might help that the Minister for Children comes from a family of foster parents and has two adoptive siblings. If we can achieve such significant changes in support for adopters with school locally I would hope to use the example to make progress nationally.

I am aware of widely differing support for adopted children in school from LAs. It would be useful to carry out research get a picture nationally. This can then be used to encourage those who are failing and also help would be adopters in their choice of agency. Feedback from adopters, trainers and social workers on the support available in your LAs would be useful.

Sir Martin Narey has already been supportive and has said he will explore these issues further on his return from holiday. He has the contacts with central government and he will get a copy of this article! With a little bit of funding we could build a picture that could tell a powerful story.


Thanks to the trainers who have contacted me via twitter and email. The work already being done by dedicated professionals is impressive. I believe we could see a lack of resource available to train teachers in schools when schools realise they will need to be demonstrating that their PP+ spending benefits our children. I am looking at ways to provide a data base of trainers and other useful information for adoptive parents, schools and social workers to access. But in the meantime here are the contacts for the wonderful people who have already been in touch.

Fiona Sheikh at http://www.family-action.org.uk/ (I’ve booked Fiona for September inset at my son’s school)

The wonderful Louise Bomber’s training firm.   www.theyellowkkite.co.uk

Gail Jackson at   http://www.afteradoption.org.uk/

Jane Evans at http://www.parentingposttrauma.co.uk/ an inspiring poet as well!




The Adoption UK course ‘Children who struggle in school’ is a worthwhile day. I took our son’s head teacher and it convinced her to set up training at school.

Next steps

I am fortunate to be able to spend time working on something that really matters to me rather than for a living. As I don’t cost anything I have found that I have been able to use my contacts at the Adoption panel and a bit of chutzpah to open a few doors. I’ll keep on pushing to see how far I can get and report back. The growing online adoption community is building an impressive momentum that can do great things. If you agree with my thoughts please share this article, tweet @martinnarey, and let’s see what we can do. If you feel an online resource would be useful let me know and I’ll see if I can build it. If you are having any joy or pain with your children’s school please share it. Thanks for all the tweets and emails. It’s good to know you are there.




Using the Pupil Premium Plus – Teaching the Teachers

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.

children's feetMy 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.

What else?
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.

Gareth Marr
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 garethmarr7@gmail.com

Pupil Premium Plus

Today we’re delighted to bring you a guest post from Jenny Jones of Inspired Foundations who has written about The Pupil Premium Plus…
…and how adopters are changing the way it is being used

The Pupil Premium has been around for a number of years now, at first only being available for looked-after children and those qualifying for free school meals. But in 2013 something happened which is changing the way the Pupil Premium is being understood and used.

In October 2013 the government announced the introduction of the Pupil Premium Plus (PP+).children crossing Not only was this an increased amount of money – £1900 per year, but it was also being extended to children who have been adopted from care, or who have left care under a Special Guardianship or Residence Order. Following this announcement there was suddenly a whole new set of parents and carers who were interested in this pot of money and how it could help their children.

I have worked with many foster carers, and for the majority I cannot speak highly enough of them. However sometimes, regardless of how good they are, they are bound by red tape. They might have thoughts, feelings and ideas but if the child’s social worker does not agree then they are silenced – they have no rights. Many foster carers I know still do not really understand the Pupil Premium, with responsibility being taken by the child’s social worker, and they often feel powerless to express an interest in this.

Whereas schools have always had to account for how this money was being spent, the introduction of the PP+ extension suddenly means that schools have other people to answer to – adoptive parents. Firstly the school cannot even claim this money without the parents permission (self declaration) and secondly, many of these parents want to know exactly what the £1900 a year is going to be spent on! Schools are being held accountable for their decisions by the very people who care the most.

An adoptive mother recently described how she had faced different reactions from her child’s primary and secondary school:

“Despite my initial excitement at the Pupil Premium announcement I was annoyed to be fobbed off by my child’s primary school, with them telling me quite clearly that it was their business and they would spend it how they saw fit. For this reason I decided not to self declare and they lost the £1900 they could have used to support my child in school. When he moved up to his secondary school I tried again and was met with a much better approach, in fact I spent over an hour talking with the SENCO  about the options and came up with a range of ideas which would all hopefully benefit my child. One of these was actually the pooling together of some of the money – and that of other children eligible for the Pupil Premium – to run a specialist group for friendship building.”  

In my opinion, the attitude taken by the secondary school is how it should be – the people who know the child best, working together with those who know the school best, to come up with a workable plan. Unfortunately I hear far more stories of this not happening, but am hopeful of this changing when school staff realise that working together is the better option.

Whilst working within schools I speak to many Head Teachers, SENCOs or other staff who despite knowing about the PP+, don’t actually know how to spend it in a way that will make a difference to the children who are eligible. It was for this reason I made a dedicated leaflet ‘A guide to the pupil premium’ which explained who could claim it and how it could be spent. It almost seemed as though staff needed permission to use the money for certain activities or projects – the leaflet seemed to work at doing this.

One of the things I highly recommend to schools, is to gain training on attachment and trauma issues in children. I firmly believe that you can provide endless clubs, extra tuition, and revision books – but if the staff members at the school do not understand the cause of the child’s difficulties then these can become meaningless. The first step to making a difference is to understand why these children need something different.

In addition to this I suggest ideas such as music lessons, after school clubs, the funding of a key worker and specialist assessments to aid the education of individual children. For groups of children, things like nurture programmes, development of sensory areas and visits from professional story tellers can all provide positive opportunities

An adoptive father explained how he approached his daughter school to discuss the PP+:

“I arranged a meeting with the headteacher and basically let her know this was my daughters money and I expected it to be spent on her. At first she was a little shocked at how insistent I was, but she soon realised I had thought things through and had reasons to back up all my requests. The school have needed a few prompts here and there but have agreed to most of the things I asked for, such as after school drama lessons and an assessment by an educational psychologist”

With adoptive parents hot on the heels of schools, they are having to prove more than ever that they are making the right decisions for children.

If you would like to receive a copy of ‘A guide to the Pupil Premium’ please email jenny@inspiredfoundations.co.uk Inspired Foundation

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’   http://t.co/j30m9C6XaV

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. thefamilyof5.wordpress.com

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 

EMAIL garethmarr7@gmail.com