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Wednesday, 26 July 2017 22:35

Kent on Sunday 29th June: Exclusion and Home Education (?) figures for Kent and Medway, the latter shocking

Irrelevant Fact: This is the 1000th item of news and information posted on this website. 

You will find the original article on which this item is based, here

In 2009-10, Kent schools permanently excluded 126 pupils, rising to 210 two years later, but falling every year since then, to a low of 58 in 2015-16. Over the same period Medway school exclusions rose from just three pupils excluded to an appalling and record figure of 81 in 2015-16, up 35% on 2014-15. This is the highest exclusion rate in the South East of England, with the secondary school exclusion rate being over twice as large as any other Local Authority. Nationally, Medway is joint 7th worst in the country for permanent exclusions. Further, the average number of days of fixed term exclusion per Medway pupil was 7.3 days, the highest figure in the country. 

In both Local Authorities, the number of families ‘choosing’ Elective Home Education is astonishingly high, with Medway seeing an incredible rise in families taking their children out of school, soaring from 38 to 377 in two years. For some reason, Medway Council is desperately trying to hide the identities of the schools where the worst problems exist.

This article explores the reasons for the stark contrast in outcomes in the two Local Authorities. Government policy is to reduce the number of children excluded from schools, with permanent exclusion (expulsion) used only as a last resort.

Back in 2011, I launched a campaign in conjunction with Kent on Sunday to see the number of Kent permanent exclusions reduced from its place at the top of the national figures, including 41 SEN statemented pupils permanently excluded, 20% of the total, 19 of whom were from primary schools. Paul Carter, Leader of KCC, pitched in with a particular interest in SEN statemented children. Under his leadership KCC set a target of reducing permanent exclusions to less than 50, with a proportional reduction in exclusions of statemented children, by developing strategies to work with all schools.

Since then the county has introduced its Inclusion and Attendance Advisory service which monitors school exclusions and provides challenge, advice and support to schools to reduce exclusions, coming close to meeting both targets, with 14 statemented pupils excluded in 2015-16. Just six schools permanently excluded five or more pupils in one of the two years up to July 2016: Ebbsfleet Academy (8); Folkestone Academy (7); High Weald Academy, Knole Academy, New Line Learning Academy, and Salmestone Primary Academy all with five.

However, it is fair to say that not all academies are in tune with the county strategy, and some use other strategies to ‘lose’ unwanted pupils. Earlier this year, the National Schools Chief Inspector identified that some schools were putting pressure on parents to ‘choose’ Elective Home Education (EHE) to get their children off their books before GCSEs. Although government does not collect figures for EHE, in 2013-14 Kent had by far the highest national figure for children going down this route, at 1112, nearly twice the next largest figure of 593 in Essex. For 2015-16, the Kent figure was still extremely high at 987 new cases.

EHE is popular amongst a number of educated families, who are confident they can offer a better education than school, or the particular school they have been offered. This does not explain the loss of 10 or more pupils from 13 Kent secondary schools in the year leading up to GCSE registration, many serving socially deprived areas. This list is headed up by Orchards Academy that saw 16 pupils leave in the year before GCSEs, followed by Ebbsfleet and Oasis Isle of Sheppey Academies, two of what I call the three Kent ‘Tough Love’ schools, all extremely unpopular with families. I have seen a considerable number of reports about Isle of Sheppey, describing the pressures children were put under to leave (which is unlawful), although the Island situation means that for most there is no alternative school. There is now a thriving Island private tuition industry springing up to cater for some of these children as an alternative to school! Surely this cannot be considered as an appropriate state of affairs, and an investigation is long overdue.

Because Kent follows the rules on Freedom of Information requests, I am able to identify the movement of pupils caused by exclusion or threat of exclusion. However, the situation in Medway is very different, as the Authority is refusing to provide  details, although there has been no problem in previous years. However, the Medway SEND and Inclusion Strategy document for 2016 -2020 records that: ‘In the year 2013-14, 70 children and young people were permanently excluded from a Medway school. This exclusion rate, 0.16% of the state-funded school age population, is the highest percentage bar one other authority. …The average number of days of fixed term exclusion per Medway pupil was 7.37 days: the highest in England’.  Unfortunately, although this is described as a strategy document it contains NO RECOMMENDATIONS WHATEVER as to how to improve matters and the figures have only got worse.

What we do know is the data in the introduction above, making Medway one of the worst Local Authorities in the country for exclusions, with more pupils permanently excluded than in Kent, which has six times as many children. This is a problem that has been building for some years as demonstrated by the 2013-14 figures. Medway had 377 children transferring to EHE in 2015-16, again proportionally far higher than Kent, a truly astonishing tenfold increase over the two years since 2013-14 when there were just 38. As to which schools are losing the most children by one or both of the above strategies, whilst I can make guesses, Medway Council refuses to provide the answers – what is it trying to hide?

Of course, some may argue that these young people get what they deserve and should be flung out on the streets or subject to punitive regimes. Many will have troubled backgrounds or medical conditions (the proportion of young people with autism who are excluded is far too high), but other children in the class have a right to be able to learn without interruption, and the main cause for exclusion in both Kent and Medway (over a third in Medway schools), is persistent disruptive behaviour.  Local Authorities become responsible for educating these pupils, to try and avoid them become a long-term cost to society but every one who drops out of school with no genuine provision made is at risk of becoming a far greater cost to society through their later behaviour. What this data shows is a very different approach to handling pupils at risk of exclusion in Kent and Medway. KCC has worked out a range of strategies including early intervention to reduce that risk, working with maintained schools and academies, although some individual schools are still happy simply to pass the problem onto someone else. Medway’s strategy document, having identified it has one of the worst problems in the country then offers no way forward, so it is no surprise it has deteriorated further, although in response to these figures the Council says it will continue to hold schools to account (although this has clearly had no effect so far!).

I have publicly identified Kent schools with high exclusion rates in the past, and been gratified to see numbers fall, possibly as a consequence. Surely Medway schools failing their communities should be equally placed in the spotlight!

Last modified on Sunday, 11 March 2018 17:08

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