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Checklist of what to ask a prospective school re adoption/trauma awareness

Bee September 29, 2020 14:16


Just putting together our list of questions for ask the staff we are meeting at ACs potential senior schools. I checked on here but the link to the education resource didn't seem to be active so I wonder if anyone has a list of questions that they may have asked. AC has some specific issues that we will be asking about, but we are also thinking of general questions to try and assess their trauma awareness.. Any ides on a postcard please!



Edited 17/02/2021
DigitalAUK September 30, 2020 11:08

Hi Bee,

I can ask our Education Policy Advisor to hop on and give you some pointers if you would like?

Best wishes,


Edited 17/02/2021
BeckyAUK September 30, 2020 11:41

Hi Bee,

Choosing a school can be incredibly daunting! I do think there are a few questions you could usefully ask, but the most important point for me is the way the school listens to you when you talk to them about your child. You really want to get the sense that they are interested in your child as an individual, and that their responses to your questions show they they are taking on board what you are saying and are prepared to explore the best way forward with you in collaboration, even if they don't have all the answers for you straight away. Sometimes I think professionals can 'rush to reassure' citing all the training they have been on, or all their experience with other care-experienced children, but training is not effective unless the principles learned from it are embedded in the school at all levels, and your child is not 'other care-experienced children' but an individual. A good, collaborative, responsive working relationship between you and the school will be vital, so be looking for the foundations of that in your initial visits.

I'm not sure where you are but if you are in England, do try to meet with the Designated Teacher for looked-after and previously looked-after children. This person should be a key point of contact for you, so it's important to know that they are able to make themselves available to parents.

In terms of questions, here's a non-exhaustive list - hopefully others will come and add on things I may have missed!

- ask about relevant training (trauma, attachment, FASD, etc.) and whether all staff have accessed training or just key staff (with the caveat I mentioned above that training on trauma/attachment does not necessarily lead to a trauma/attachment aware setting!)

- if in England, ask about how the school uses PP+ and how they differentiate their use of PP+ from that of PP. Find out who you will be able to talk to about use of PP+ in relation to your child (it would usually be the Designated Teacher)

- again, in England, ask about the school's relationship with the Virtual School team - has the school received training/advice/guidance from the VS on previously looked-after children and how closely do they work together

- ask about transitions to the school - what are the arrangements for transitions from primary to secondary, and what, if any, programmes do they have in place for children who might need extra transition support

- have a look at the school's behaviour policy before you visit (it should be available on their website) - if you see it's called something like 'Relationship and Support Policy' you might be on to a winner! Ask what 'reasonable adjustments' they can make to the policy for children with additional needs, including needs arising from trauma/attachment and SEMH needs. You are looking for a school that prioritises support to meet expectations over punishments for failing to meet them. I wouldn't expect to find a high school free of 'consequence' systems or similar, but there should be an associated programme for teaching expected standards explicitly, and providing strategies and support for those who may struggle.

- find out about the procedures they have in place for maintaining home-school communications. Good communications will be the bedrock of your relationship with school and can prevent things spiraling out of control.

- find out about how the school rewards children. Sometimes this can be an indicator of the school's ethos. While public reward systems (wall charts with house points, or reward assemblies etc.) can motivate some, there will be children who always have the fewest points, or never get included in reward assemblies, and that is just as de-motivating for them as the common systems of traffic light or sunshine/cloud wall displays for behaviour in primaries. As with consequences, I'd expect the vast majority of schools to have some system for rewards, so ask about what rewards are given for and how they are given, and what adjustments can be made for those who may find a public fuss intolerable.

- most schools will have a programme of pastoral support of some kind, so ask about that, nurture provision, support with peer relationships, support with unstructured times (lunch, breaks etc.)

That's a long list already, and there are many more things you could ask - if you have any questions or thoughts, I'd be happy to talk with you more.


Edited 17/02/2021
Bee October 2, 2020 16:52

Thats brilliant!

We had our first meeting today and I noticed that they did not really pay much attention to our AC's issues and were quite woolly on the trauma training. They seemed to assume AC would act out and need strong boundaries when in reality they close down and act in and need help to come back out of their stress again

Thanks so much for this, 1 school down, 2 to go


Edited 17/02/2021
Galapagos October 6, 2020 20:27

You need to ask how they will dwal with certain scenarios such as school refusal, running away, fighting etc; what they know if fight, flight, freeze and fawn responses and how they adapt their responses according to these needs; what their view on homework is;what specialist support they offer both with and without ehcp; how they will spend the pupil premium....

Edited 17/02/2021
chestnuttree February 18, 2021 13:37


Sparkle Motion March 5, 2021 07:19

Great advice above! I wish I’d seen that list when we chose a school Becky! I’ll feedback based on my experience, although our son is primary age.

Drill down into the specifics of what is offered / what has been offered in the past children who have delays to learning and struggle with managing emotions and behaviours. If you get vague waffle about it being a school that personalises support to the individual needs of the child chances are there’s no provision in place. How do they measure the effectiveness of what they are offering. How do they involve parents and the kids themselves n this evaluation.

Focus on transition to school - how do they support, but don’t just focus on that. I wished we’d asked questions about how they’d support our son throughout his school journey - as the difficulties he has faced has he has got older have increased significantly!

See if via your adoption support team or other people you know, friends of friends etc you can get feedback from parents of children who have SEN. What’s their experience of a school. Rate this experience far higher than anything you hear from parents of children without SEN, even if your children don’t have SEN.

Don’t get hung up on Ofsted /performance data. As a parent of a child at an Ofsted outstanding school I’ve leant they maintain high standards re performance data by focusing support away from individuals who, even with significant support, may not convert into a statistical success.. Dara that is useful is the indicators of how much progress children who attract pupil premium / pupil premium plus make in the school. Ask how the measure and whether you can see this data. If they are vague about it being confidential chances are they don’t effectively measure!

Ask about Pupil Premium Plus to gauge whether they understand that you are not asking about free school dinners!!

Consider a school further away from home. On reflection we looked at such a small selection of schools based on geography. We worried about being too far from the friends or child would hopefully make. On reflection a city school with experience of children with SEN, specialist teachers and proven experience in supporting around emotional and behaviour difficulties would have been a much better option that a school in an affluent area where the majority of children thrive.

Safia March 5, 2021 08:35

I think it’s very hard. With the primary school I chose it because it’s the nearest school - 5mins walk away - and parents and children often went to the local park after school so good socially. I also knew it was a large diverse intake. When I went to put my sons names down his birth certificate was with the court and the secretary said she had an adopted daughter - this woman happened to have a child in the same class. There was also another child who was adopted from overseas in the class - all by chance and unpredictable. Another member of staff was particularly sensitive and used to come in the morning to help my daughter into school (the teacher didn’t) - turned out she had several adopted children. Another thing that really helped was that children stayed in the same classes throughout their time at the school. This really helped with stability and security. My son was also in the little group the TA worked with which was a positive that made it work. There were some really insightful and sensitive teachers - and many who weren’t - but I don’t think they’d had any specific training. I don’t think any of these things - except the class constancy - would’ve come out on a visit.

Safia March 5, 2021 08:41

Sorry I see the question was about secondary school. Similar but opposite experience. Chose carefully but it didn’t work out. The school was local - sports specialist which was his area of interest / talent - lots of kids he knew as nearly all the boys from his school always went there. I liked the fact that they had lots of hands on activities at the open evening and the HT didn’t emphasise academic achievement in his talk. I think one thing to look at it reading between the lines with policies - for example if you ask about bullying (as it’s common) ask how do they pick it up and monitor for it - particular times / places / issues - rather than how do they deal with it (ie once reported) Often they prefer not to see it I think. Its a good idea to speak to the SENCO if you can if there’s any possibility your child might come under their remit - which there probably is - as what they say varies so greatly and tells you so much about the school

Edited 05/03/2021
chestnuttree March 5, 2021 14:01

We have recently transfered our children from an large secondary to a small private school, because my children just could not cope with the state secondary. The difference is like night and day.

Based on our experience I would say:

- try to find a school that is similar in size, intake and feel to your primary school (if your son likes his primary) if at all possible - even if your child is flexible and adjusts easily

- find out about how the school prevents and monitors bullying, eg if the school has large grounds, how to they handle that? Break times?

- do they have any social and emotional learning programmes all children or certain year groups take part in? Our new school does and I feel that it makes a huge difference.

- try to find out what the common issues are at the school, eg. are many children selfharming? How does the school handle those issues? How do you think your child would respond to that?

- I know that many adopters recommend bigger schools, because these schools tend to have more resources, but my children could not handle that. Think about how your child will handle the size of the school. Does your child need a calm environment? Does your child need to be noticed to feel held?

- what support is available and for whom? What about children with low to mid-level needs, what support is available for them?

- Will there be children your child knows and gets along with? How will they fit in? I think how children get along with the other children is probably the most important thing (that might be because my children are extroverted) and at the same time very difficult to predict, because each year group is different.

Unfortunately I think a lot is very difficult to predict.

3 years in June 28, 2021 21:59

Thank you for this thread. We are choosing a secondary school in the Autumn and are meeting SENCOs now. Some really helpful questions and tips.


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