‘White kids lead the way’. White fragility & racism in school: an illustration. #BlackLivesMatter

In light of the current #BLM protests, I thought I would publish something personal: an exchange with my daughter’s school . This exchange happened July 2019. There is much to say about it, but for one thing it is a clear illustration of White fragility and the difficulty to achieve change when ‘unintentional’ racism is not seen, not understood, and – when raised – put down as ‘jumping to conclusions’ and ‘over sensitivity’.

A letter to my (Black) daughter’s (overwhelmingly White) secondary school:

Dear …

I overheard [my daughter] practising the Musical song they are doing with her form – I could not believe what I heard:

“And meet the nicest kids in town
Nice white kids
Who like to lead the way
And once a month
We have our negro day!”  

I really am shocked beyond belief that this day and age you would let children sing this text AT ALL. Even listening to or looking at the text should only be done in the context of a careful, thorough explanation of racism and its historical and current implications.

I appreciate that Hairspray itself was intended to be an anti-racist and critical piece AT THE TIME. However, I asked [my daughter] what she understood by all of this – she had no clue and assured me that the word ‘negro’ may actually have been replaced with something else,….

[My daughter] is mainly concerned about not being ‘pulled out’ of the Musical as a result, and punishing her is not what we’d want to do, but this really is beyond being unacceptable,..

The response from the Music teacher:

Mrs [Y] forwarded your email to me about the music theatre project that [your daughter’s] class are studying at the moment. I was deeply saddened to read it as I have worked so hard here for 23 years to promote an intolerance of racist, homophobic and sexist behaviour and when a complaint is emailed in that undermines my work with regard to this this it makes me despair that it has all been for nothing sometimes.

Having studied the progression from Opera to Music Theatre the class were asked to choose a music theatre song to perform at the end of term, one that they would stage, direct and choreograph themselves.

They chose a song from the musical Hairspray, which as I believe you know, is an anti-racism musical, but because we’re singing it out of context from the storyline, I had a lengthy (about 20 minutes) discussion with the class about the historical context of the song and the dreadful situation in America where segregation was the norm in many states, and we watched a section of the musical and discussed black history in America (they have already covered the slave trade when learning about the blues earlier this year).

As I felt other students watching the performance might misunderstand without the context, we CHANGED THE WORDS from the original song, to “once a month it’s party day“… We also discussed this at length and the class understood this, and were commendably sensitive about the issue.

[Your daughter] herself sang the above words in a rehearsal with the other thirty girls in the class at least 7 seven times last week in the subsequent lesson. It’s even more memorable as all the girls jump in the air when they sing the word ‘party’!

Frankly,  it made me feel sick to think that I had been misunderstood in this way by a parent jumping to the wrong conclusion and wonder why you did not email me about it first, when I could have explained easily.  It hurts all the more when I pride myself on my sense of injustice regarding inequality and racism and that any student of mine that has been taught by me over the years will know this.

I like to think [your daughter] and I have a good relationship – she works well in music  and in this song she’s doing some great gymnastics (which has really impressed the other girls) as part of it as that’s her forte, and I like to play to students’ strengths.”

Our response to the Head of School:

Dear [Head]

We received the email below from Mrs X as a response to our message in which we expressed our disbelief and shock at hearing [our daughter] sing some very problematic lines from a musical song that she has been learning at school. We are very sorry to read Mrs X feels so hurt.  We know [our daughter] likes her very much. We also do not doubt her commitment to equality and justice, nor did we think any harm was purposefully intended.

However, we do now understand that the gap between our perspective, experiences and understanding of the matter on the one hand, and the school’s on the other, may be too large (or too painful) to bridge. It seems the mere expression of our genuine feelings and views, triggers so much defensiveness that it become difficult to engage with the actual issues.

This is of course not uncommon: often those (seen to be) ‘complaining’ of racism or expressing a problem to do with racial issues, are told they are doing so as a result of an ‘overreaction’ or a ‘misunderstanding’ (or indeed ‘jumping to conclusions’), usually because no harm was intended or the problem is not ‘seen’. Again, this is a widespread feature in many institutions.

Therefore, rather than responding to Mrs X directly, we write to you as the Head and senior staff, both in order for you to support Mrs X with her apparent strong feelings around this (and so to mediate communication), as well as because it should not fall to us to deal with her emotional response, where effectively the tables are being turned in terms of who is upset here, whilst the underlying racial problematic is not addressed.

It also should not fall to us to explain or educate on an issue which to us seems so self-evident. Nevertheless, we will attempt to explain a few key points below, and provide some links to easily readable information in relation to this, leaving it up to you to what extent you wish to explore this further, or not, as a school.

For us, the best way forward in this instance is to be practical and act in [our daughter’s] best interests. We have explained the complications to her, which she is starting to understand. Despite being disappointed not to be able to take part, and especially despite not wanting to stand out from the others, she has decided not to take part in the performance next Thursday. (…).

If you or Mrs X have any further questions, or would like any clarifications please can you not discuss it with [our daughter] but contact us instead. Please ensure Mrs X is aware of this too, as we would not want her to engage [our daughter] on this which would be difficult for her.

Here are some of our thoughts:

We understand the word ‘negro’ was replaced with ‘party’ for the performance, but that [our daughter] still used this word when singing the song at home because she followed the original soundtrack that was initially listened to when practising. Of course, this replacement makes a contentious and complex word ‘invisible’, but it leaves the rest of the song without clear meaning or connection to the text or story line.

More importantly, it is difficult to explain how excruciatingly painful it is for a parent to hear one’s own child-of-colour sing the words:

“And meet the nicest kids in town. Nice white kids. Who like to lead the way”

[Our daughter] has experienced direct racism in a previous school, and experiences indirect racism and structural disadvantage regularly (even if she is not always aware of it) – as she will do throughout her life. She wants/ed to straighten her hair and dye it blond. She often comments on who has lighter and darker skin and feels very ambiguous about her own appearance. She is very aware of being ‘other’ and, certainly at a previous school, white children made sure she was aware of the fact that ‘white kids lead the way’!

She has (hardly) any non-white teachers as role models. She is exposed to a stream of daily implicit messages in the media, books and otherwise, unconsciously imprinting a sense of white superiority on her, even despite also receiving explicit messages to the contrary at home and elsewhere. These are the facts. No matter how uncomfortable, we cannot make them ‘invisible’ just by denying it, playing it down or asserting our own commitment to justice.

So, the pain of those words being sung is felt regardless of the song having a function in a wider (supposedly) anti-racist story overall, and regardless of whether the context was explained to the class or not. It simply is too much.

Words we say, read and repeat to ourselves find a way to get embedded – even when the message is meant to be the opposite or phrased as a negative.  Surely, if one musical song had to be chosen to be performed ‘stand-alone’, there must be many others with themes that are less contentious or potentially harmful.

We also acknowledge there was a 20 minute discussion with the class about the historical context of the song. ([Our daughter] either missed this due to absence or doesn’t recall).  In our personal view the song seems a frivolous way to reflect on past harms like slavery, segregation, and apartheid in any case, but more importantly when sung in the current climate, it just feels very wrong.

Racism is on the rise including in education and schools, and (racial) hate crime in [this geographical area] particularly is one of the highest rising in the country. The students at your school and their families are not separate to this environment, and many will be receiving implicit and explicit messages – outside of school – about immigration, about white superiority, about ‘Britain first’, and about ‘nice white people/kids’ that should be ‘leading the way’,… If singing lines like that, this context cannot be ignored.

Many of us – like Mrs X – seek to fight racism, but overt forms of racism keep thriving on a much more subtle wider, embedded history and culture of white superiority which often is internalised through implicit messages and persistent structures.

This implicit sense of superiority – and the need to scaffold white fragility – is so pervasive that even stories about fighting racism usually have a lead role for a righteous white person who is ‘saving’ people-of-colour or fighting inequality,…(like in Hairspray).

These are complex, nuanced considerations, and difficult to engage with for everyone involved. Much has been written about it, but it is up to you to decide whether you want to explore it further or not. We have given some links to some basic information that gives further background to many of the points we made.

Kind regards

Signed & links provided. 

We received no response. The performance went ahead as planned. Our daughter did not attend school that day.

Pupil Premium Plus for Adopted/Previously Looked After Children – Template Letter to Schools

The Pupil Premium Plus (PP+) for Adopted / Previously Looked After Children is still confusing many schools, parents/carers and public bodies. The number of pupils it applies to is relatively small, which is perhaps why – in the bigger picture of the pressures schools are under – they can remain somewhat ‘invisible’.

The crack they fall into lies somewhere between Looked After Children for whom PP+ is managed by Virtual School Heads (VSH), and ‘economically disadvantaged’ pupils for whom Pupil Premium is managed by schools. The VSH passes a certain amount of PP+ (depending on need) for each Looked After Child to his/her school, and so expenditure is closely linked to a specific pupil’s Personal Education Plan (PEP). On the other hand, PP+ for Previously Looked after Children is paid as a lump sum directly to schools alongside the payment of  other types of pupil premium (the bulk of which is to alleviate the impact of ‘economic disadvantage’).

Adopters/carers are strongly encouraged to declare their child’s ‘status’ to schools so that PP+ can be claimed. However, in many cases adopters/carers find themselves re-buffed by schools when asking about how the funds could be used best to support their child, with schools stating that parents/carers have no part to play in this decision.

Some clarity on how the PP+ for Adopted / Previously Looked After pupils should be used and what role parents/carers play in this, finally came about when the responsibilities of the Designated Teacher were extended to this group of pupils from September 2018. However, not all schools are aware of the detail of the guidance and many adopters / carers continue to struggle to get schools to discuss the PP+ with them, let alone direct the funds towards the specific needs of the adopted / previously looked after pupils in the school. This is likely in part because schools do not want to risk having to have a discussion with each and every parent/carer who’s child receives some type of pupil premium, and/or because schools wish to pool the funds and allocate it as they see fit. The letter below explains how this approach is not helpful nor in accordance with Statutory Guidance. 

I have posted this template letter to schools for adopters/carers here, because so many have asked for it. Please feel free to use, adjust as needed, and share widely. Also do send comments and suggestions to improve, and I will update as relevant.

Dear [Name Head / Senco / Governors,.. ]

Following the recently updated Statutory Guidance for Designated Teachers, I am inviting you to discuss with me the Pupil Premium Plus (PP+) that the  school receives for [name child]. Please could you let me know:

  1. Who is the Designated Teacher (DT) for Looked After and Previously Looked After pupils in the school?
  2. How is the school implementing section 44 and section 75 of the Statutory Guidance which states that the DT must encourage parents and guardians’ involvement and participation in discussions on their child’s support needs and the use of the PP+? Will there be individual meetings and/or (assuming there are other pupils attracting PP+) will there be a group meeting or consultation with the relevant parents/carers of adopted / previously looked after children?
  3. How is the school ensuring that PP+ is allocated for the benefit of the “cohort of (…) previously looked-after children and according to children’s needs” as required by section 43 of the Statutory Guidance? How will this be monitored?

As I am sure you are aware, PP+ for Looked After Children is allocated via the Virtual School Head (VSH). However, once a child is Adopted, under Special Guardianship or otherwise ‘Previously Looked After’, schools must “work closely with their parents and guardians as they will understand their child’s needs better than anyone else” (section 75). The DT may still seek the advice of the VSH “about meeting the needs of individual children” as long as this is done “with the agreement of the child’s parents or guardians” (section 71).

The full amount of the PP+ for Adopted / Previously Looked After pupils is paid directly to the school, and this is currently £2,300 per pupil per year. This is £980 more (the ‘plus’ element) than the Pupil Premium for ‘economically disadvantaged’ primary school pupils, and £1,365 more than the sum received by other Pupil Premium secondary school pupils. This extra funding “reflects the significant additional barriers faced by looked-after and previously looked-after children” (section 40).

Whilst I am aware the PP+ is not a ‘personal budget’, it still should be managed for the benefit of the specific ‘cohort’ of adopted / previously looked after pupils (section 43) . Moreover, section 40 stresses the need for a focus on the specific needs of this (small) group of pupils, noting that “despite some overlap with the needs of economically disadvantaged children, looked-after and previously looked-after children’s needs can be very different”. As such, although paid directly to schools alongside other types of Pupil Premiums that together form the Pupil Premium Grant (PPG), expenditure of the PP+ for Adopted / Previously Looked After Children should in it’s focus and allocation be differentiated from the general PPG expenditure within schools.

A clear focus on the specific needs of adopted/ Previously Looked After pupils, does not necessarily mean that (some of) the PP+ cannot be ‘pooled’ together with other funds (such as the rest of the PPG), to pay for an intervention that benefits a broader range of pupils. It just means that schools must ensure that when deciding on Pupil Premium expenditure, this should: a) be targeted, i.e. show that the specific ‘cohort’ of pupils that attract PP+ is (also) benefiting from the provision; b) be focused, i.e. ensure this cohort’s specific needs are addressed, and c) be ‘plus’, i.e. reflect the higher rate that is allocated to this specific group of pupils.

[You can insert here examples of what the school currently spends PPG on and which interventions your child does/does not benefit from and/or to what extent the benefit reflects the fact your child receives a higher rate / ‘plus’ element.]

I would like to arrange a meeting to discuss my child’s specific needs and how these can be supported by PP+, as required by the Statutory Guidance. I also would like to invite you to discuss with myself alongside other relevant parents/carers at the school, how we can ensure that the Pupil Premium Plus funds are focused on the specific needs of the ‘cohort’ of adopted / Previously Looked After Children. For example, there may be training opportunities (e.g. on attachment, trauma or loss, which would also benefit a much wider range of pupils); getting advice on / developing integrated support for social and emotional / mental health needs; or purchasing children’s books (for the library) that include foster or adoptive families,.. etc. [insert anything specific you think your child might benefit from / would be good for the cohort attracting this funding].

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards

[Your name]

Link to the Guidance:

Click to access The_designated_teacher_for_looked-after_and_previously_looked-after_children.pdf

First ever binding guidance on Pupil Premium Plus for adopted children: what does it say?

The first ever official – and binding – guidance specifically addressing Pupil Premium Plus (PP+) for adopted[1] children is finally out (February 2018) and will soon come into force. The rules that schools must follow are embedded in a much broader statutory guidance on new duties to: 1) appoint a designated member of the staff as having responsibility for promoting the educational achievement of previously looked-after pupils, and 2) ensure that this designated person undertakes appropriate training and has regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State.

Before I start on PP+, I need to say two things. Firstly, the new role of the designated teacher is of huge significance, and – to be absolutely clear – this role is not exclusively, or even primarily, about the use of PP+. The role covers things like communication and working with parents and guardians; the need for specialist training and provision; Special Educational Needs (SEN) and mental health; behaviour management policy, etc. I will discuss some of these duties in a future blog, but here I will focus on what the statutory guidance says specifically about the use of PP+.

Secondly, another important development occurring alongside, is that the role of the Virtual School Head (VSH) has been extended to provide ‘information and advice’ on the education of previously looked after children. With regards to PP+: this remains managed by the school; the VSH’s role in relation to PP+ for adopted children is to provide “guidance on effective use” only.

I’ll be exploring what the new guidance says in relation to three key questions:

  1. Who decides? In particular, what role do parents and guardians play?
  2. Should the funds be focused on the pupils that attract it?
  3. What specific needs should the funds address?

1. Who decides?

The statutory guidance is clear that PP+ funding remains ‘managed’ by the child’s school (s. 42), whilst the VSH provides guidance on its ‘effective use’. Within the school, the designated person should “… play a key part in decisions on how the PP+ is used (…) and encourage parents and guardians’ involvement in deciding how the PP+ is used (s. 44). The latter requirement is repeated in s.75 which states that parents and guardians “should be encouraged to participate in discussions about their child’s support needs and strategies to meet identified needs, including how PP+ should be used to support their child”.

The language of ‘encouragement’ is a little odd in the context of so many adopters desperately trying to discuss how their child’s needs could be better met at school (whether by using PP+, SEN funding or otherwise). Also, being ‘encouraged to discuss’ is not the same as being ‘consulted’.  ‘Consulting’ is a much stronger legal concept: even though it still does not give a final say, a consultation means you must be given a proper, formal opportunity to be heard before a decision can be made. Nevertheless, perhaps we can welcome this as a first step. Schools should of course engage all parents in such discussions anyway, but it could be a helpful provision for those unfortunate adopters who so far have been ‘shut down’ by schools stating they have no say at all in the use of PP+.

In addition, s. 75 also continues: “the views and wishes of parents and guardians should be respected at all times”. This is interesting. I would like to interpret the word ‘respect’ here in the sense of having ‘respect for the law’ or ‘respecting someone’s last wishes’, in which case our views and wishes should really be followed up on. However, I suspect that what is intended is that parents should be treated with courtesy and consideration: again, something schools really should be doing anyway.

2. Who receives the benefit?

PP+ should be used “(…) to support previously looked-after children (s. 44). The guidance reiterates the position that PP+ is “not a personal budget for individual children”. Instead, the school manages “their PP+ allocation for the benefit of their cohort of (…) previously looked-after children and according to children’s needs” (s. 43).

I have written about the difficulty of this concept of ‘cohort’ in previous blogs. Some schools might have a number of previously looked-after pupils that could be considered a tiny ‘cohort’, but most schools will only have a handful or even just the one! Previously, the DfE have stated that the PP+ for adopted children is not ‘ring-fenced’ within a school, which has led to funds dissipating within a general pot, and, in particular, the ‘plus’ element not being allocated to the specific pupils that attract it.

This new guidance seems to state that PP+ funds must be specifically focused on the needs of the adopted children in a school. This could be incredibly helpful, especially now that PP+ has gone up to £2,300 per pupil. In the context of the average spend per pupil being around £4,800, this certainly is a substantial amount. Targeting these enhanced funds on this small group of pupils, could make a huge difference and encourage a greater focus on their specific needs too.

The requirement of a more targeted approach is reinforced by s. 40 which confirms what I pointed out in my previous blog, that despite some overlap with the needs of economically disadvantaged children, looked-after and previously looked-after children’s needs can be very different. A clearer focus on such needs could in fact be very beneficial for many other pupils too, as it is increasingly evident that ‘attachment friendly’ and ‘trauma aware’ whole school strategies benefit a broad range of children, if not everyone.

A more clearly ‘ring-fenced’ approach focused on the specific needs of previously looked-after pupils, does not necessarily mean that (some of) the PP+ cannot be ‘pooled’ together with other funds to pay for an intervention that benefits a broader range of pupils (especially perhaps looked after pupils). It just means that all PP+ expenditure should be shown to at least specifically benefit adopted pupils ‘according to their needs’. This brings me to the next question.

3. What should it be spent on?

The additional funding is provided “to help improve the attainment of (…) previously looked-after children and close the attainment gap between this group and their peers” (s. 39). It can be used “to facilitate a wide range of educational support”, and the interventions used “should be evidence based and in the best interests of the child” (s. 46).

The focus here remains on ‘attainment’ as the ultimate purpose for the funds (as it does for the general Pupil Premium Grant). However, there are very strong indicators in this guidance that PP+ can be used to address ‘wider’ needs. Of particular relevance is s. 40:

“All pupil premium spending should take account of the specific needs of eligible pupils. (….). The extra funding provided by the PP+ reflects the significant additional barriers faced by looked-after and previously looked-after children (see special educational needs and mental health). The designated teacher has an important role in ensuring the specific needs of looked-after and previously looked-after children are understood by the school’s staff and reflected in how the school uses PP+ to support these children

This section, along with the fact that the guidance sets out duties more broadly for the designated person in relation to emotional, social, mental health and SEN needs of previously looked-after children, implies that PP+ spending does not necessarily need to be focused on academic attainment directly. In fact, at one point the guidance even makes explicit “the link between emotional well-being and being able to make educational progress” (s. 49).


However, with regards to accountability there is a lot of uncertainty. Governing bodies are required to hold schools to account on how previously looked-after children are supported, what their attainment is, and how their PP+ is used,  but how they do this is “flexible” because of the “patchy nature in the numbers”. Indeed, this is a very tricky issue in many schools where there are only a very small number of adopted pupils on roll.

Ultimately, it seems, schools are still mainly held to account by looking at the ‘attainment gap’. Whilst for many pupils there can of course only be ‘attainment’, when a basic level of emotional well-being is in place, this is not always the case: I know some very anxious, ‘over-achieving’ and ‘too’ well-behaved (in school at least) adopted children. Will emotional, mental health or other needs that do not appear to directly impact on attainment (and that are perhaps not the most pressing compared to other pupils in school) be supported too by the PP+? I suspect this is more likely to be the case if parents are really listened to, and if PP+ funds are – at least partially – focused on the individual child’s needs, neither of which are currently clearly set out in the new guidance.

In short

The gains are: that parents should at least be ‘encouraged’ to take part in discussions; that schools must make a clearer distinction with the needs of economically disadvantaged pupils; that funds should be specifically targeted on adopted pupils ‘as a cohort’, and that there appears to be more defined scope to address wider needs beyond purely academic attainment.

The risks are: that parents are still not having enough of a say; that certain individual adopted children may not benefit (much) depending on their and the schools’ specific circumstances or approaches, and that in the end schools are still held accountable on the basis of the ‘attainment gap’ only, rather than long term emotional well-being as a value in itself.

In addition, as I mentioned above new role of the designated person more broadly is a hugely important development. I suspect that, with the current financial pressures on schools, many schools will allocate quite a bit of the PP+ they receive to the overheads or salary costs for this designated person. This may not be a bad thing, depending on how their role practically impacts on the specific, individual previously looked after children in the school, but that remains to be seen,…


[1] Although the term ‘previously looked-after’, also includes children who left care under a Special Guardianship or a Child Arrangement Order, I will use the term ‘adopted’ interchangeably with it for readability purposes.

Pupil Premium Plus: Kipper or Herring

This was originally an excessively long response (sorry) to a great blog by Stuart Guest giving a very helpful overview of various PP+ issues and very sensible suggestions for ‘whole school’ approaches. For my blog post to make sense, first read Stuart’s blog dated 14th March 2018: https://educationandadoption.wordpress.com/

I do love herring.

Ideally, as suggested by Stuart Guest, all schools would improve their knowledge and expertise on attachment and trauma, prioritising all children’s social and emotional needs. HOWEVER, sadly not all schools really want to do this, or even believe this is the way forward. There is a huge diversity in school leadership – not only in terms of practice but also in terms of ethos, values and pedagogic approaches. Adopters cannot always know in advance which school has the genuine willingness to engage and develop in this way, nor can they always practically access such schools.

Moreover, there is an implicit pressure and responsibility placed on adopters to not only educate and inform schools about our own children, but even to get schools to shift policy: that can be a huge task. Whilst there are many adopters – often those with relevant professional experience – doing a fantastic job in this respect, there are also many, many adopters exhausted of seeking to educate/engage/convince/‘fight’ various ‘systems’ already: post-adoption support; Adoption Support Fund; therapy; speech and language; CAMHS; SEN support; EHCP; contact arrangements; medical appointments; disability services, the list goes on. And that does not even cover the significant daily emotional input and support many of our children need: the therapeutic parenting; the dealing with violence and trauma; the strategies for the neuro a-typicals; the educating ourselves and, of course, keeping on top of the all-important self-care especially for those of us suffering from secondary trauma.

Yes, ideally all schools do better on the emotional and mental health front, but that does not necessarily take away from the need to keep Pupil Premium Plus focused on the adopted pupils it is intended to support.

Indeed, schools have a duty to “do whatever they can to meet and support the needs of all pupils”, just like CAMHS have a duty to do care for every child with a mental health need, and the NHS for every person with a medical need etc. In an ideal world all provision is made (timely) “regardless of the specific funding pot the money comes from”, but unfortunately we do not live in an ideal world and the trough is not limitless. Schools are under challenging financial pressures. As a result, funds – as well as other resources – are restricted and choices need to be made. At the moment these choices are influenced mainly by the results on which schools are judged (closing the attainment gap), and their beliefs in what might work best to get those results.

NOT ring-fencing in some (many?) schools means – on the one hand – that those pupils that are least likely to help a school get these results, yet most likely to take up resources, will fall by the waste side. Call me cynical, but I do not think it is a coincidence that the exclusion rate, especially of children with ASD and other SEN, has gone up since the new SEN funding block is not ring-fenced for SEN children! In terms of ‘result per penny’, they simply cost a school too much. But I digress.

On the other hand, not ring-fencing also means that those adopted children that ‘get by’ despite the challenges; that manage to ‘keep it together’ in school, and be at the ‘expected’ level, will not get additional support in school. Some adopted children manage to get there (sometimes only after many years) because of the enormous input of their parents: they give up work to therapeutically parent; they pay a private tutor or supplement teaching at home; they arrange therapy (and go to therapy themselves!); they ‘hold’ their child together to get through the school day; they pick up the pieces after school, etc.! This is what we do as parents of course, but really some of the pressures could be taken off by targeting the PP+ spending on our children, even when they do ‘get by’. This doesn’t have to be all individual spend, sometimes it can be a ‘pooled’ provision as long as our adopted children are guaranteed to benefit. The amount is not insignificant: relative to the current mean spend per pupil which is around £4800, a premium of £2300 is actually very, very substantial.

I don’t think many adopters would simply want PP+ money spent on their child regardless of needs. I imagine the main focus of adopters, and indeed other SEN parents, is always on meeting their child’s support needs. Unfortunately, we are often told there are no funds available, or that our child is not the priority. Having a ring-fenced pot may go some way in shifting the power dynamics in these conversations.

I would say PP+ is not always so much an “unintentional distraction” from focusing on our children’s needs, but rather often a potential tool to finally get some leverage with schools and get them to listen and provide relevant support for our children who really could do with a boost whether they are ‘attaining’ or not.

On the topic of herring: being Dutch I prefer mine raw, but in the UK people seem to like them smoked (as a result of which they turn red: kippers). In my view PP+ is not so much a kipper/red herring that could divert hunting dogs from the scent on a trail, but rather a potentially nutritious meal that should not be left marinating in the communal barrel for too long.

Should adopted children be treated the same as looked after children in schools?

A number of legal changes are afoot in relation to adopted children* and schools. The Children and Social Work Bill – having a second reading in the House of Commons tomorrow (Monday 5th December) – will extend the role of Virtual School Heads (VSHs) and Designated Teachers beyond their current responsibilities for Looked After Children (LAC) to include those who have left care. In a separate development – to do with changes to the Schools Funding Formula – the Government has stated that LAC and adopted children should be “treated equally by the school funding system”. What does this all mean? Should adopted children be treated the same as LAC in schools?

First, let’s have a closer look at how it all works for LAC, as this is the model upon which proposals for adopted children are largely based. Local Authorities (LAs) have a statutory duty to promote LAC’s educational achievement, and VSHs are the officers appointed to ‘properly discharge’ of this duty. Designated Teachers have a lead responsibility in ensuring staff within each school understand and meet the specific needs of LAC; their role is part of the execution of the wider statutory duties of the LA. Both the VSH and the Designated Teacher – along with the child, social workers, foster carers, etc. – contribute to the development of a Personal Education Plan (PEP) which forms an integral part of each LAC’s Care Plan. The PEP covers the assessment of academic and other needs in school; target setting; interventions; support, and monitoring progress and attainment. The PEP is also central to the process by which Pupil Premium Plus (PPP) funds are being released to schools by the VSH for the benefit of LAC’s education.

This model cannot (and should not) be transposed directly onto adopted children. Contrary to LAC for whom LAs have extensive statutory duties and need to act as the ‘corporate parent’, adopted children have parents with full parental responsibility, including for their child’s education. Indeed, the current plans are not for the VSHs to act in the same way for adopted children as they already do for LAC, but rather merely to provide ‘advice and information’ to schools: something many VSHs already do. When it comes to adopted pupils VSHs will not be organising education plans, they will not be monitoring interventions and support for specific pupils, and they will not be managing their PPP which is paid directly to schools rather than distributed via the VSH (see my previous post).

What can we expect then? I’m not sure. Perhaps VSHs’ training and information materials will more explicitly cover adopted pupils? Perhaps Virtual School staff members can attend meetings upon invitation of parents to provide advice and support? Perhaps there will be an ‘extra pair of eyes’ on schools to ensure adopted pupils’ needs are met? Whatever it will be, whilst it may go some way to help, it does not seem that there will be any firm additional duties or accountability measures coming into place.

With regards to Designated Teachers, an extension of their role to include adopted pupils could potentially be helpful. I can see the benefit of having a central point of knowledge on trauma, attachment etc. within each school. It could also be helpful to have a consistent point of contact for parents, relieving some of the pressures to always explain the same things again and again to new teachers and members of staff. But here too there will be differences: when it comes to LAC, Designated Teachers have enhanced statutory duties, they will need to communicate with a team of people involved in the pupil’s care, and much of their role is taken up by planning, implementing and monitoring PEPs.

There is no indication that PEPs (or something akin) will be required for adopted children. If they are, will adoptive parents be consulted and/or will they need to approve the plan? What happens if parents and schools don’t agree? VSHs ‘hold the purse’ for LAC pupils’ PPP, but adoptive parents currently do not even need to be consulted by schools on PPP (see my previous post). Yes, we know it is ‘good practice’ for schools to consult, and, yes, we know that there are templates for educational plans for adopted children available, but all of this is ‘advisory’ and ‘optional’ which often means adopters will need to drive it, and are completely dependent on the goodwill of schools (which can change any time as leadership, priorities and pressures within the school shift).

I am not saying VSHs or Designated Teachers should have further responsibilities than those currently proposed in relation to adopted children, because there is a risk that adopters end up being bypassed or patronized, and that adopted children become too closely aligned with LAC. All too often we as adopters already feel the need to assert ourselves as ‘the proper parent’, and all too often professionals give us the lingering sense that perhaps they have an additional responsibility in relation to our children because we are not the ‘real’, ‘birth’ or ‘original’ parent,…Don’t get me wrong, I do think it is necessary to acknowledge that educational, social and emotional issues do not miraculously disappear just because a child is adopted, and I do think there will be benefits to the involvement of VSHs and Designated Teachers, but I don’t think it can – or will – go far enough in resolving the key obstacles for adopted children in schools.

What else to do then? In my last blog post I discussed some of the problems with the current use of PPP for adopted children. I pointed out that PPP for adopted children is usually pooled by schools with their general Pupil Premium Grant (PPG) provided for financially deprived children, and that as a result spending is often not effectively targeted on meeting the specific needs of adopted pupils, including insufficient focus on trauma and attachment awareness in schools.

Government agencies insist that schools are best placed to allocate PPP (including by pooling it with PPG) according to their judgement as long as ‘disadvantaged pupils’ in general benefit. Perhaps we can convince the Government to use some of its own logic, as applied in the first round of consultations on the National Schools Funding Formula, to change this.

Before I get to the logic, I need to explain: in addition to the targeted PPP for LAC managed by the VSHs, there is currently also an optional ‘looked after’ factor in the Designated Schools Budget. Not all LAs choose to use it, but if they do, schools get a slightly enhanced overall budget depending on the number of LAC on their roll. The Government is now proposing that for the purpose of calculating the new National Designated Schools Budget, this ‘looked after’ factor will no longer be used, and instead all financial support for LAC in schools will be provided through an (enhanced) PPP.

The logic behind this is is that the Government recognized that LAC are such as small proportion of the school population that any funds absorbed within the larger Designated Schools Budget would not be sufficiently visible to a school and therefore not most effectively used. Yes! Very good reasoning. Please do apply that very same reasoning to the fact that adopted children are such a small proportion of the ‘disadvantaged pupils’ (PPG) population in a school that any PPP funds absorbed within the larger PPG budget would not be sufficiently visible to a school and therefore not most effectively used!

The Government also noticed that LAC have particularly poor educational outcomes; that many have suffered abuse or neglect, and that a high proportion have special educational needs. Wisely taking all of this into account, along with the relatively small size of the cohort, the Government thinks that funding allocated to support this group should also be linked to clear accountability requirements. Quite right! Again, please apply the same logic to adopted children: accountability for adopted pupils’ PPP should be much clearer and effective, and the funds should be ring fenced for adopted pupils rather than disappear in a larger pot, especially so that the ‘plus’ element does not get lost to the targeted pupils.

We must wait to see what exactly will be proposed in the second round of consultations on schools funding, due out any moment now, but in the first consultation, the Government proposed that the PPP rate is not only increased for LAC but also for adopted children. This sounds great in principle, but these funds will not work effectively (or indeed equally) for adopted children as long as:

  • their PPP – paid directly to schools – is pooled with the general PPG
  • there is no requirement to involve adoptive parents
  • there is no requirement to spend the funds specifically on adopted pupils
  • there are no effective accountability measures in place (Ofsted and Performance tables are not frequent and effective enough, as there are only a very small number of adopted pupils in each school).

The question is therefore not so much whether adopted children should be treated the same as LAC, but whether adoptive parents should be treated the same as LAC’s ‘corporate parents’ (and have a greater say), as well as whether PPP for adopted pupils should be ring-fenced specifically for them and accounted for with the same focus as the PPP for LAC. At the moment adopted pupils are aligned with LAC for the purpose of the rate of their premium (which reflects their similar level of need), but they are then prodecurally and in practice grouped with ‘financially disadvantaged’ pupils in terms of focus of expenditure and accountability: as is often the case, they are falling in between.

The second consultation round on schools funding may provide an opportunity to work towards achieving some necessary changes. However, PPP is a miniscule portion of the overall schools funding budget and it will be off the radar for most key players involved. Those who manage to get heard on this issue must be well prepared and speak up loud!

Please do share your comments on this post and/or on the issues discussed.

*Most of this equally applies to post-LAC with a Special Guardianship Order, a Child Arrangements Order or a Resident’s Order.

Pupil Premium Plus: parents have a ‘right’ to express views (but schools don’t have to listen)

Whilst adopted children attract an enhanced pupil premium, as long as this is not separated out from the overall Pupil Premium Grant in schools they are:

  1. less likely to benefit from the range of provisions provided by a school;
  2. if they do benefit, the provision they use is less likely to be chosen with their specific needs in mind and,
  3. there are no guarantees that the ‘Plus’ (enhanced) element of their premium will be spent on them specifically (in fact it’s likely they receive less!).

Read further for the what’s and how’s,…

AdoptionUK is campaigning for adoption-friendly schools; Coram’s group ‘The Adoptables’ launch a schools toolkit, and the Virtual School Heads’ (VSH) responsibilities are being extended. Yet, parents, schools and Government agencies remain terribly confused about the funds behind it all: the Pupil Premium Plus (PPP).

I’ve been thinking about adoption and schools for a while now, not least because both my ‘cherubs’ experienced a school breakdown (on separate occasions) within the space of two years. Youngest had to stay at home for pretty much the whole of last year, while I struggled through an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) process, and we got much needed post-adoption support (thank you Adoption Support Fund and fabulous therapist!).

Now that youngest is finally back in school (well, half days), I tentatively resurface from the bureaucratic underworld of SEN funding and soak up a momentary reprieve from full-time ‘therapeutic parenting’. Oh, and then I go along to an education conference organised by Kent County Council Adoption/Coram. The event was in many ways inspiring, but it also reinforced my experience that there is a great deal of confusion about – and variation in – support for adopted children in schools. There’s plenty to say on this topic, but here I’ll focus on what it’s ‘all about’: the money.

I first heard of PPP for adopted children two years ago when I received a letter and a Q&A style information sheet from the Department for Education (DfE) acknowledging that teachers and schools have a vital role to play in helping adopted children “emotionally, socially and educationally by providing specific support, to raise their attainment and address their wider needs”. ‘Good news’, I thought. The same document goes on to say “funding is not ring-fenced and is not for individual children”. ‘How’s that going to work?’ was my next thought. It didn’t.

One of the main reasons given for the ‘not a personal budget’ approach, is that the DfE thinks “a school is best placed to determine how the additional funding can be deployed to have the maximum impact”. So, schools know best and/or they should be able to ‘pool’ the funds. Indeed, pooling resources often makes sense. For example, the PPP for Looked After Children (LAC) is distributed via the Virtual School Head (VSH) within each local authority. This allows for some funds to be spent on collective provision (like training). Funding for the specific needs of individual LAC pupils, identified in a Personal Education Plan,  are released to schools as required.

However, PPP for adopted (and for the purpose of this blog I lazily include in that term other post-LAC children like those with a Special Guardianship Order), is paid directly to schools. Many schools will only have one, a few (perhaps at most a dozen) post-LAC pupils. Practice varies widely. Some schools pretty much focus all PPP spending on their adopted pupils, but many adopters struggle to find out what is happening to their child’s premium.

Often schools will pool their PPP funds with the ‘general’ Pupil Premium Grant (PPG), allocated to schools to close the attainment gap between ‘financially deprived’ pupils and others. This pooling is greatly facilitated by the DfE as there is no requirement to report separately on PPP and PPG spending. But hang on a minute, the DfE sheet from 2014 (still the only detailed DfE guidance specifically on PPP to my knowledge) also states that the PPP for adopted children should not be used “to support other groups of pupils”. Are ‘financially deprived’ pupils not an ‘other group’ then?

I can’t sensitively cover all the issues this raises, but will make a couple of remarks. Of course children can be adopted (or otherwise cared for) by ‘financially deprived’ families. In fact, some adopters quickly slip into this category due to loss of income because of caring responsibilities that turn out to be a lot more long-term, a lot more demanding, and a lot more unpredictable than expected! Also, there are many pupils who have never been ‘looked after’, yet are affected by the same issues that are commonly associated with LAC and adopted children, such as loss, neglect, (pre-natal) trauma (incl. FASD) and attachment disorders. Still, there are differences between the two separate – albeit overlapping – ‘categories’. PPP is a higher premium and, although improving attainment is one of it’s core purposes, it is also explicitly provided to “address wider needs”.

When schools pool PPP with PPG much depends on what provision will be funded. Most adopted children will no doubt benefit from things like pastoral care, playground supervision, smaller classes, extra-curricular activities, learning interventions etc. However, there are risks. The specific needs of the very few PPP pupils in a school are likely not to be the main focus of spending decisions. Provision will (understandably) be mainly informed by the needs of the much larger category of PPG children.

For example, whilst it may be a nice bonus, many adoptive families don’t really need subsidized school trips or free uniforms. Also, adoptive parents usually get a fair bit of parenting training, and therefore some ‘outreach’ activities to engage parents may not be as relevant to adopters as a group. Whilst breakfast and after school clubs can be great for some adopted children, for others spending even more time away from key attachment figures would be detrimental (not to mention raise concerns about lack of structure, supervision, food, etc.).

The premium is also often used to pay for behaviour management strategies and interventions that are unsuitable, detrimental, or simply don’t work for many adopted children (exclusions, shaming and even ‘logical consequences’ – check out the neuro-science!). Maybe even more concerning is the little known fact that any provider of counselling or therapy to adopted children must be registered as an approved adoption support service with Ofsted! School counsellors and therapists – potentially funded by the PPG/PPP budget – often don’t have the specialist knowledge or indeed the required registration, to provide suitable support to adopted children.

So, ironically, whilst adopted children attract an enhanced premium (£1900 instead of £1320 in primary and £935 in secondary), if this is pooled with the general PPG they are:

  1. less likely to benefit from the range of provisions provided;
  2. if they do benefit, the provision they are using is less likely to have been chosen with their specific needs in mind (e.g. we’ll take the free uniform, but really what we needed was a keyperson to meet us at the start of the day,..) and,
  3. there are no guarantees that the ‘Plus’ element of their premium will be spent on them specifically.

In practice, funds are likely to flow towards pupils that have the lowest attainment, the most disruptive behaviour etc. regardless of whether they are adopted or not. (One might say that is fair enough, except it shouldn’t be called a premium for adopted pupils then!)

I wrote to both the Education Funding Agency (EFA) and to the DfE to seek some clarity. The EFA: “(PPP) is to be used for the benefit of all pupils how the (school) see fit, this does not need to be used on the pupils who attract the funding. The LAC element of the grant however is to be used on the pupil who attracts this funding”. Interesting! Does that mean that in a primary £1900 -£1320 = £680 is actually a ‘personal budget’ for the adopted pupil whilst the rest can be pooled?

The DfE: “(…) it is considered good practice to consult parents but is not a requirement. Schools are granted the PPP to specifically benefit looked after and post-LAC pupils according to individual needs. However this is for each school to determine – as the Pupil Premium Plus is not a personal budget schools are free to pool it, along with the free school meal (…) pupil premium, to meet the assessed barriers to learning of all eligible pupils”.

Did that clarify it for you? I’m still confused: the PPP should specifically benefit adopted pupils according to their individual needs, but it does not need to be allocated to them and can be pooled to meet the needs of all / eligible pupils???

I probed some more on accountability. The DfE: “Ofsted will expect to see specific support in place but not expect it to match the PPP funding amount. There is no measure of sufficiency other than perhaps the opinion of an Ofsted inspector and the eventual results of pupils published in performance tables. If a school considers access to a certain activity to be sufficient support for a pupil given their needs, it is free to arrange this. If an adoptive parent has an alternative view they have a right to discuss this with the school”.

Ok, so the school decides and as long as there is something in place, however minimal, that could suffice. Parents have a ‘right’ to express their views (I thought we had freedom of speech for that), but there is no ‘requirement’ for the school to consult (or indeed listen!).

If this sounds concerning (frustrating!) to any adoptive parent out there, don’t worry because Ofsted and the performance tables will keep an eye on it. (With their track record of fairness, predictability and consistency – not to mention the respect they have among schools – surely that is reassuring,…). And, just in case, soon the VSH will be involved too. Mind you,  only in a ‘light-touch’ way we are assured, because after all they are the ‘corporate parent’ for LAC, whilst adopted children have their own parents. Except of course, those parents don’t have any means by which to hold schools accountable!

As I’m not one for giving up, I made one last attempt to get clarity and asked the DfE what a school should do if there is only one adopted pupil on roll whom the school does not consider to be ‘in need’ of using the full amount of premium. The DfE responded that in that case “the grant should still be used to extend the pupil so that they can realise their full academic potential”. Aha, so a specific benefit after all?

Erm, maybe not: to make sure I remained confused, the DfE added that even in the case of a single adopted pupil the school is free to pool the PPP with the ‘deprivation-based PPG’, and suggested that this might actually benefit the adopted pupil because if their assessed needs come to more than the amount of their PPP, the funds from the general PPG could cover it! Really?? I’d love to hear from any adopters with a child in this position (obviously, other than when the school should really have used SEN funding streams,..). Anyone?