In this blog Trevor Male provides an update on the latest developments about excluding some children from schools in England.
Just a day after I published my last blog in the last part of July ‘The phenomenon of ‘off-rolling’ in English state maintained schools which is widening the social divide’ the parliamentary Education Select Committee released its own report which described the ever increasing exclusions as a ‘scandal’. So, time to update my last blog with the very latest news.
For those of you not familiar with the way in which the UK parliament works, it has standing committees – drawn from all parties – which look at various aspects of state provision and report accordingly. Typically, these Select Committees can summon witnesses and ask for submissions from interested parties on the chosen topic. As such these reports tend to avoid political bias and are usually very robust pieces of research.
This parliamentary report looked at the ways in which alternative provision was seemingly being abused by a sharp increase in the number or permanent exclusions from mainstream schools in England. The purpose of alternative provision is to meet the needs of a wide-cross section of the pupil population, who will often arrive with complex needs and vulnerabilities and not all of whom have been excluded. In this case, the committee report appears to have been triggered by significant evidence and concerns about the over-exclusion of pupils, many of whom end up in alternative provision.
Bastions of inclusion
“Mainstream schools should be bastions of inclusion”, concluded the committee and “intentionally or not, this is not true of all mainstream schools”. The BBC analysis of the report showed pupils being excluded at the rate of 40 per day, however, with the bulk of those coming from secondary schools (83%) and the greatest proportion coming after Year 9 (i.e. during the final stage of their secondary education).
Exclusions can be:
- Permanent, where a pupil is unable to stay at their current school;
- Temporary, where a pupil is not allowed to attend school for a certain number of days;
- Internal, where a pupil is placed in isolation and segregated from the rest of the school
Just as I reported in my previous blog there has also been an alarming increase in ‘hidden’ exclusions ranging from those whose parents have been encouraged to take their child out of school voluntarily to children being separated from their peer group and ‘taught’ in isolation. Sadly, the committee also received evidence of schools deliberately failing to identify children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), seemingly for financial reasons.
We also heard that schools are justifying permanent exclusions of pupils with SEND, by claiming that they will get the support that they need in alternative provision, and exclusion will speed up the assessment process.34 This then leads to pupils with SEND being left for long periods of time in alternative provision while the assessment takes place, which does not mean that a child’s needs are being met. (2018 Select Committee Report: p 10)
Finally, greater awareness of pupil’s mental health and well-being was resulting, it seems, in more children being identified as needing support which mainstream schools and wider support services are not able to provide. Nevertheless, children with such difficulties were often still being excluded.
Reasons for permanent exclusions
What we are witnessing in England, therefore, is a dramatic increase over the last three years of permanent exclusions with a rise of some 40% being recorded. Persistent disruptive behaviour was by far the most common reason for permanent exclusions with the effect being felt most by disadvantaged groups, but those being referred to alternative provision also include children identified as SEND, those with mental health issues and those with undiagnosed difficulties.
The analysis of exclusions seems to reflect a growing social divide with very poorest pupils, those on free school meals, being four times more likely to receive permanent exclusions than other pupils with the figures also showing that black Caribbean pupils have an exclusion rate three times higher than the school population as a whole. Meanwhile children with special educational needs support are almost seven times more likely to be permanently excluded than pupils with no SEND and boys are three times more likely to be permanently excluded than girls.
Partly the reason for rising exclusions, suggested the Select Committee report, was a shortage of funding for schools which limited their ability to be responsive to need, but there has also been an increase in zero-tolerance behaviour policies.
The evidence we have seen suggests that the rise in so called ‘zero-tolerance’ behaviour policies is creating school environments where pupils are punished and ultimately excluded for incidents that could and should be managed within the mainstream school environment. (Ibid, p 11)
The report also provided evidence (as I did in my previous blog) that government’s strong focus on school standards has led to:
… school environments and practices that have resulted in disadvantaged children being disproportionately excluded, which includes a curriculum with a lack of focus on developing pupils’ social and economic capital. There appears to be a lack of moral accountability on the part of many schools and no incentive to, or deterrent to not, retain pupils who could be classed as difficult or challenging. (Ibid, p 14)
This latter point is significantly supported by evidence from children who highlight exam stress and subject choice, along with negative impacts of social media, as impacting on their mental health and well-being.
The press for academic attainment
The committee report concludes that the press for academic attainment has probably placed stress on schools to demonstrate sustained and enhanced levels of performance on an ever-narrowing curriculum:
An unfortunate and unintended consequence of the Government’s strong focus on school standards has led to school environments and practices that have resulted in disadvantaged children being disproportionately excluded, which includes a curriculum with a lack of focus on developing pupils’ social and economic capital. There appears to be a lack of moral accountability on the part of many schools and no incentive to, or deterrent to not, retain pupils who could be classed as difficult or challenging. (Ibid, p 14)
It is too early to say whether the evidence will lead to change in practice. What we do know is that the process of ‘off-rolling’ I described in my previous blog is illegal. The problem, however, is that “the exclusions process is weighted in favour of schools and often leaves parents and pupils navigating an adversarial system that should be supporting them” (Ibid, p 40).
The report concludes with numerous recommendations to government for change, including establishing a Bill of Rights for pupils facing exclusions. My best guess? This will disappear in terms of government priority because of the forthcoming Brexit and disadvantaged and vulnerable children will continue to be denied access to high quality provision in mainstream schools. I will be delighted if I am wrong.