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?

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

  1. This is ridiculous. One of my children has not reveived anything extra as far as I can tell. She is slightly above average and coping fine socially in school, so that’s that for them. Except that had she not had her past, she would of course be higher achieving; except that she suffers from separation anxiety and other effects of trauma; except that she bedwets and so on. My other one has attended booster “clubs” (phonics and the like) as part of groups of children. Those booster clubs would have taken place anyway though.

    None of the teachers have had adoption/ trauma / attachment related training. They have no clue and it shows. We have never been consulted or informed. Makes me angry.

    Liked by 1 person

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