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Tuesday, 31 October 2017 20:16

Permanent Exclusion and 'Off Rolling': A Radio Interview for the West Midlands

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Update 3rd November: I hadn't looked in detail at the weekly Report by Patrick Leeson, Kent's Corporate Director,Children, Young People and Education, of 10th October on Permanent Exclusions  in Kent when I wrote this article. This provides some more up to date exclusion figures, but clearly identifies the major problem area as North West Kent at both primary and secondary levels. It makes no reference to the alternative methods of off-rolling covered below, and it would be good to see something on these in the future, which would also bring Swale into the picture. 

I gave an interview yesterday morning for West Midlands Radio on the recent rapid rise in permanent exclusions in their area, up by 50% over the past five years. This followed up on a previous series of interviews I gave to Local Radio Stations last year.

I was of course able to draw on data from the smaller Local Authority in our area, which saw a 50% increase in permanent exclusions in just one year, from 2014/15 – 2015/6. This was accompanied by a parallel 58% increase in families ‘electing’ to have their children Home Educated.

I was also fortunate to be able to draw on a recent Report by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), setting out some of the concerns I have spelled out in previous articles on this website. This article covers and expands on the content of my interview. 

The article concludes with a brief look at the great unknown, children who simply disappear from the records. 

Let us be clear. Permanent exclusion is the right decision in many cases where schools have exhausted all strategies to control a situation.  

Government Policy states that:‘Permanent exclusion should only be used as a last resort, in response to a serious breach or persistent breaches of the school's behaviour policy; and where allowing the pupil to remain in school would seriously harm the education or welfare of the pupil or others in the school. The decision to exclude a pupil must be lawful, reasonable and fair. Schools have a statutory duty not to discriminate against pupils on the basis of protected characteristics, such as disability or race. Schools should give particular consideration to the fair treatment of pupils from groups who are vulnerable to exclusion’.

The break down in accountability of schools, especially academies, combined with the pressure on them to achieve the best possible results at Key Stage 2, GCSE and A Level, has led to soaring exclusion levels in some schools, and alternative methods of ‘off-rolling’, some illegal. Eight out of ten permanent exclusions are for children with a special education need or disability, in spite of government imperatives to avoid these wherever possible. 

Other casualties are teachers, trying to manage increasing levels of special education need across a wide spectrum of difficulties. The demands of some schools to deliver results at all cost leads to little professional development for new teachers, within a sink or swim culture. Management structures can see senior staff glad to be out of the classroom, offering little support to struggling teachers leaving them isolated. Such factors contribute to record numbers of teachers leaving the profession, with over a quarter of new teachers leaving within the past three years. Quite simply we cannot afford this rate of attrition.

Some claim the increase in exclusions is purely down to declining behaviour standards, but one only has to look at differences in exclusion rates between schools with similar profiles, between Local Authorities, and talk to families as I do, to put the major responsibility for some dramatic increases down to individual school and Local Authority attitudes to problems.

After I highlighted the very high Kent number of 210 permanent exclusions for 2011-12, 41 of whom were SEN statemented, the consequent pressure has seen numbers tumble over the intervening period to 66 in 2015-16, of whom 14 were statemented. However, I recall a discussion with a Kent headteacher some years ago, whose record exclusion levels I had highlighted, thanking me as he considered it a good advertisement of the high standards he maintained in his school. 

Travelling in the opposite direction is Medway, with just 22 permanent exclusions in 2011-12, fewer than five of whom were statemented. For 2015-16 the figure had soared to 81, the highest rate in the SE of England, and considerably higher than Kent. One school accounted for 22 of these exclusions, over a quarter of the total. 

Case Study
Back in September, I was approached by a family whose son was in difficulties in his school. He was autistic, but did not qualify for an Education Health Care Plan. The school was not meeting his education needs, in spite of an Educational Psychologist's Report that identified appropriate strategies to improve learning and behaviour. He is very reluctant to move schools but now feels persecuted for his autism, as the school is making clear he would be better off elsewhere (although there is no obvious alternative). Sadly he is not alone, and I have no suggestions, except to keep trying to work with a school that does not want him. The family have spoken with a variety of 'experts' who advise on plans that require the agreement and support of the school, which is not forthcoming. The school is an Academy, part of a large Trust, and I know from past experience they do not take kindly to criticism, with complaints simply getting lost in the system. Two months on, nothing has changed except that his situation is even more precarious, and he is clearly at risk of exclusion. The school has suggested that Home Education may be appropriate to avoid this. I will happily pass on any practical advice!
 
Illegal Sixth Form Exclusions
These do not include illegal exclusions from school Sixth Forms, which I publicised back in January, but has developed into a national scandal.
 
Elective Home Education
The statistics show that permanent exclusions form just part of the off-rolling scandal of pupils leaving or being forced to leave schools in the year before GCSE registration to improve results. Other methods of off-rolling include ‘encouraging’ pupils to opt for Elective Home Education, 377 in Medway for 2015-16, up tenfold from 38 two years earlier. Kent, six times as large, was 987, similar to 2013-14 when it was the largest figure in the country. OFSTED's Director of Education has written to all Inspectors to warn them about the practice of off-rolling, and to make an appropriate judgment, although I doubt this will be much of an incentive to back off. 
 
Pupil Referral Units
The IPPR Report picks up another concern I have expressed, the high number of pupils being transferred to Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) in some areas, designed to offer short term placements for children at risk of permanent exclusion, whilst remaining on the home school roll. In Kent, the PRUs and some schools operate differently in Swale and North West Kent, large numbers of pupils being fully and permanently transferred  to the PRUs, taking them off-roll in the critical Year 10 period. In Medway, both PRUs were completely full of children who had already been permanently excluded, so they were unable to be used for the intended purpose. The IPPR Report refers to significant numbers of private PRUs, often using unqualified staff and often of a poor standard, although I am not aware of any in Kent or Medway. 
 
The Disappeared
The final group of pupils off-rolled are those who have disappeared completely from the system, who attract little attention. The only data I have on these is that in Kent, in 2014-15, there were 419 children referred to KCC, who were still unaccounted for at the end of the year. One can only speculate on the range of reasons, as by definition  these are unknown, but will inevitably include a number of Children in Care, and Asylum Seekers, whose fate is unknown. 
Read 811 times Last modified on Saturday, 04 November 2017 19:39

3 comments

  • Comment Link Friday, 03 November 2017 17:56 posted by Victims parent

    Help. It is all very well you writing about these scandals, but what are you doing about it? PETER: These are powerful organisations, and it needs government to take them on. It won't as its priority is the success of the academy programme, and a few casualties just get in the way. All I can do is highlight it, but as you will be well aware, sadly I am a voice crying in the wilderness, with no other powers, except taking opportunities like this one. I have been on a number of media, but to no effect. Sorry

  • Comment Link Thursday, 02 November 2017 13:16 posted by At the end of my tether: Wolverhampton

    Heard your interview on West Midlands Radio and tracked you down, as I have not heard anyone gives such a down to earth attack on the system before. Your article is spot on, and I am up there with your case study! Thank you so much for trying to expose this scandal. PETER: Thanks for this. I am so sorry we cannot make more progress in exposing this. My best wishes for your child. I hope s/he makes it.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 01 November 2017 19:20 posted by Family in trouble

    Peter, you might haven been describing my situation in your Case Study. We are in despair,our son is Autistic and we have been told if we are not happy go somewhere else, or else Home Educate if we don;t want him expelled. Both the other local schools are full, and have made clear they don't want someone else's cast offs. We live on a daily knife edge, waiting for the crisis to erupt. PETER, and sadly not alone by a long way. The system is not working, but there is limited interest in cases such as yours. Sorry I have no solution except to advise you to hang on in!

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