Adopted children let down by 'inadequate' accountability

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

'Inadequate' accountability over how funding is used for adopted children has created a postcode lottery of provision, with some families reporting confusion over the use of Pupil Premium Plus and the role of the virtual school head and designated teacher.

There are more than 56,000 previously looked after children in England’s schools – these are children who have left local authority care because of adoption or a Special Guardianship Order.

However, their backgrounds and challenges make them 20 times more likely to be excluded than their peers, more likely to have special needs, and to get lower exam grades.

More than £130m is allocated by the Department for Education (DfE) each year to support previously looked after children, but a new report from charity Adoption UK says that we cannot say if this money is being well used due to “wholly inadequate” accountability.

The report says that while three-quarters of adopted young people say they need more support than their peers in school, more than half don’t receive it.

It adds: “Almost 80% of adopted children say they routinely feel confused and worried at school, and two-thirds of those at secondary school report being teased or bullied because of being adopted. On leaving school, adopted young people are twice as likely to be not in NEET compared to their peers.”

Previously looked after children should be supported in school through a package of measures, including the Pupil Premium Plus. In 2018, the roles of the designated teacher and the virtual school headteacher were also expanded to include previously looked after children.

However, Adoption UK says that while there is clear accountability for children in care, with the local authority acting as “corporate parent”, the different legal status of previously looked after children is causing confusion.

The charity says: “Families are taking on full responsibility for knowing their children’s rights and entitlements and holding schools to account for adhering to statutory guidance when, too often, schools themselves have not been given the guidance, nor the time and resources to fulfil their obligations.”

Challenges highlighted in the report include a lack of clarity around the purpose and best use of Pupil Premium Plus; the limited and vague role of the virtual school; and the lack of time and support for designated teachers.

On the virtual school, the report adds: “Both parents and educators can be unsure as to the purpose of the role and have expectations of the virtual school that may not be achievable with the resources available.”

And on the designated teacher, it states: “The designated teacher too often lacks the time, resources and support to effectively carry out their role, especially in smaller settings where they may be fulfilling other significant duties. The designated teacher role works best in the context of a whole-school approach to understanding and supporting care-experienced children but providing effective training to all staff is costly and time-consuming. The impact of the designated teacher role is blunted when parents/guardians are not aware of the role or are unclear as to its purpose.”

The report calls for the introduction of a statutory framework for previously looked after children, similar to the Personal Education Plan for looked after children. There is also a call for all local authorities to publish a “local offer” for previously looked after children, including information for families about Pupil Premium Plus, the virtual school and designated teacher, and priority access to school places.

Report author Becky Brooks said: “While these measures were extended to adopted children with the best of intentions, it is hard to escape the conclusion that tinkering at the edges of education policies designed for a different group of children will always be problematic.

“In order to genuinely give these vulnerable children an equal chance to learn, the DfE needs to consult about the best way to ensure their important investment in school support is used well.”

  • Brooks: From both sides: Evaluating education support for previously looked after children in England, Adoption UK, February 2022:
  • Headteacher Update: Supporting previously looked after children (an article advising schools written by virtual school headteacher Darren Martindale), June 2019:

This material is protected by MA Education Limited copyright.
See Terms and Conditions.


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up Headteacher update Bulletin
About Us

Headteacher Update is a magazine, website, podcast and regular ebulletin dedicated to the primary school leadership team. We tackle a wide range of leadership issues, offering best practice, case studies and in-depth information, advice and guidance. Headteacher Update magazine is distributed free to approximately 20,000 primary school headteachers.

Learn more about Headteacher update


Register to receive regular updates on primary education news delivered free to your inbox.