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.
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!