Adoption UK and leading education experts are urging a real rethink in how schools are assessed, to reflect the experiences of adopted children
A new report published by the charity today, ‘Top of the Class’ recommends that schools should be held to account for the way they support their most vulnerable students and that school leaders need help to make fundamental changes.
Three-quarters of adopted children have suffered significant trauma in their birth families such as abuse and neglect, which can have a lasting impact on their ability to learn and their mental and physical health. They are significantly more likely than their peers to be excluded from school and to leave school with no qualifications. These children are the tip of the iceberg – up to half of all children in classrooms across the UK have had traumatic experiences such as family breakdown or parents with drug or alcohol problems and suffer similar barriers to learning.
Adoption UK’s Becky White, the report author and former teacher, said: “Many schools with stellar exam results do a very bad job for their most vulnerable pupils. No school should be rated outstanding unless it is outstanding for all its students. But in the current environment, it takes a very brave head teacher to invest as much in meeting the needs of the most vulnerable and complex students as they do in chasing exam results.
In a UK survey of teachers for this report, 60% of respondents told Adoption UK there had been no relevant training on the needs of children who have experienced trauma in their school in the past three years. In England, eight out of ten ‘designated teachers’ who responded to the survey – a role with responsibility for looked after and previously looked after children – received no additional resources, either in terms of funding or time, to help them do this work.
Amongst the contributors to the report are Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union and Jarlath O’Brien, a teacher at a multi-academy trust.
Mr O’Brien said: “Over the course of 18 years as a teacher I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, how schools can hinder the chances of children who have experienced trauma. Supporting these children is a matter of education and support, not retribution and punishment.’
Ms Bousted said: “In some schools, pupils are valued almost wholly for their academic attainment. Children who have had a tough start in life, for whatever reason, find it more difficult to get into these schools, and if they do, soon find that their personal needs are not being met.”
The English schools examining body OFSTED published its new draft inspections framework last week, which is now under public consultation. OFSTED has acknowledged that the current obsession with exam results is bad news for the most disadvantaged children.
However, Adoption UK has some significant concerns about the new framework, including its approach to behaviour management.
Becky White said: “There are schools doing a wonderful job of making sure every child has an equal chance to fulfil their own potential, whatever that is. Some of the solutions are simple and affordable. But often what’s needed is wholesale reform of school policies, from foundational principles upwards. That takes courage, and schools inspectors and governments need to lead the way.”