So, I was at the PAC-UK / Yorkshire & Humber Conference (Being Family) on Monday about Getting the Best for Adoption Children in School. Can I stress that these are only my notes (with my views in blue) there may be errors and omissions. Please don’t hold me to account! 🙂
It was a packed agenda where a selection of Social Workers, Adopters and Schools from the Y&H region were invited to attend. There was reasonable attendance from all areas, although I would have liked to have seen more from schools if I’m honest.
Even if you are not in Yorkshire & Humber, I hope there are some nuggets in here that everyone would find helpful or provide hope of this type of support eventually becoming more widespread across all schools and Local Authorities! I’ve attempted to give the highlights.
Mick Gibbs, Chair of Regional Adoption Board began with some comments, most notably a mention that
Instead of School Inclusion and Exclusion, think about School Attachment
Contrary to popular belief, care does make things better
Next up Sir Martin Narey. He talked about adoption changes over the years and the number of myths surrounding adoption and breakdowns. He said adopters were not treated well but that the process for recruitment has changed to improve that. There are still significant challenges with time taken for matching, behaviour of courts and the support fund being only available for one year. Personally, I believe we are still not treated well, we are still not respected and recognised as being a powerful force that can create a change in these children.
The issues are schooling can be solved quite easily with few changes because the issues do not disappear overnight.
There is nothing else like adoption for the ability to transform a life.
Sir Narey said that he is happy to be contacted by email and he attempts to answer every one received!
Education: from Rainbows to Reality
PAC-UK’s Chief Exec, and their refreshingly straight talking Education Psychologist Emma Gore Langton talked about there being a disconnect at all levels that there is a misguided view that adoption is ‘lovely’. Key things were that
- Brain structure changes our view of the world – all this we know. (We do! I’m not sure everyone knows, certainly not all schools and educators).
- A teacher will hold on to information about a child in misunderstood ‘confidentiality’. (They do! I’ve experienced that more than once much to the detriment of my children!)
- Schools are anxious about parents’ expectations, so they don’t communicate. There is particular difficulty in secondary schools. (Really? I agree they don’t communicate, agree secondary schools are particularly difficult. I’ve heard schools saying “we deal with in school” which may be a bigger reason for not communicating. I’ll give this the benefit of doubt!)
- On exclusions, no real data but Adoption UK Survey said
- more than 50% were at secondary schools
- 1 in 5 children were age 6 or younger
- there is serious impact on the most vulnerable children.
- Education is a key reason for seeking post adoption support (true for me!)
- Transition from primary to secondary increases stress on families according to Selwyn report. (absolutely! It has nearly broken my family)
- Curriculum issues can trigger crisis (yes, and schools will not listen)
- There is a DFE grant for schools in the Y&H region to become Attachment Aware. (Brilliant!)
Alan Clifton, The Virtual Head from North Yorkshire talked about Pupil Premium and even though I thought I knew lots about Pupil Premium he had some interesting perspectives.
There are 152 Local Authorities across the country and all have a Virtual School Head (VSH) responsible for Looked After Children (this is statutory now). That means that there are 152 ways to allocate Pupil Premium and it’s uses! DFE Guidance (from 2009) says “it is good practice for adopted children to be monitored”.
- All adopters should find out who your local Virtual Head is.
- Personal Education Plans (PEPs) are a good monitoring tool (although not statutory) but helpful for progress, attainment, outcomes, relationships and even friendships, because it should cover Social and Emotional Wellbeing too. You can get a sample PEP from your VSH or from him (Alan Clifton).
- Pupil Premium money is NOT ring-fenced for your adopted child. Schools can pool PP money for staffing, tracking, nurture groups etc.
- You should work with the school to identify
- barriers to learning,
- specific learning needs,
- how to ensure your child progresses
- your child’s feelings (that’s a big one for me, I find teachers talk ‘at’ rather than listen to my child)
- The key thing is relationships! (Absolutely right, this is what is missing in their early lives and as human beings we all need those relationships, our children need them more so.)
A Special School’s Approach
There was a really lovely presentation by a Leeds special school about the work they did with a particularly troubled child. They had some training from Family Futures and talked about what helped and what worked.
- Key Needs are Communication, Consistency and Care.
- Provide choices
- Model behaviour, explain what that behaviour should look like and what it means.
- Set limits and explain expectations
- Be specific with wording (rather than “well done”, say “I really liked how you lined up”)
- Pick your battles
- Address the child’s sensory needs
- Be aware of anxiety and stress
The most valuable resource? HIS PARENTS! and the Adoption Social Worker.
(I wanted to jump for joy when they said parents were most valuable resource, because I, and many of us, feel we are ignored or not listened to. Yet there still seems to be a lack of understanding that we don’t all have social workers any more or any other professional support!)
Amanda and Sarah said everything I wished I was able to say! Both highlighting the inability to work when we have adopted children who struggle with life and school. Sarah mentioned there has been perhaps 3 weeks this year when both children have been in school “where they should be”. It is a full time job being “on call” for school so she can bring her child home. (Oh yes, I know that approach!)
Many adopters talk about schools trying to “force a square peg into a round hole”. (I wanted to stand up a cheer at this point! That’s exactly what I have been saying!)
Sarah went on to say that our children have a right to an education and they way they are treated does not help our children’s self esteem.
Can schools please find some square holes for our children?
Amanda explained about her issues with 3 different schools by the time Jazz was 8 years old before resorting to a version of Home Education. Highlighting that there are big groups of adopters who home education because they feel they have no choice. (I know! I’m been close to that many times.)
If you do feel you have to Home Education, ensure your child stays on the school register so that you still have links and can hope to progress to a slow integration back into school. Amanda had the same teacher at home for 10 hours and then the same at school.
It is useful to have some days at home as Therapy Days so families can invest in that time and reduce school stressors, work on attachment and have calm down time. (Whoop, whoop Amanda. That’s exactly what I arranged for Biggey last month. Although, it only happened because school said they can’t cope!)
When Amanda talked about friendship issues and the fact that “sometimes the only people at birthday parties were the teachers” there was a big ahhh all around me. Will it be enough to create a change though? I certainly hope so.
There’s more. That will have to follow in blog part 2. For now, I’m linking up with #WASO.
Thanks for reading!