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Sunday, 15 April 2018 07:24

Permanent Exclusion, Home Education and Children Missing from Education in Kent 2016-17

I have at last obtained comprehensive data for Permanent Exclusions and numbers leaving schools for Home Education across Kent in the school year 2016-17, in spite of spurious attempts by KCC to keep back the detail. For those few who may be interested, there is a section on the issue below, together with a ruling I have fought for for years. 

68 children have been permanently excluded from schools and Pupil Referral Units across the county, 19 of these being from the primary sector. Most exclusions from one school were the five from the Knole Academy, for the second time in three years. Three excluded children have Statements of SEN or EHCP Plans, a sharp fall from the 14 statemented children of 2015-16. For that year Kent had the lowest permanent secondary school exclusion rate in the South East, and the thirteenth lowest in the country, a comparison that is likely to stand up again for 2016-17 when figures are published.

There has been a sharp rise in the number of children leaving to be home educated from 770 in 2015-16, to 925 last year. Largest number is from Oasis Isle of Sheppey Academy, under Tough love new management at 44, more than twice the 20 of the previous year. However, the school with the highest percentage is Ebbsfleet Academy, also Tough Love, at 4.4% of its roll, or more than one child from every class. 

Altogether, 2,292 Kent children went missing from education at some time in 2016-17, 333 of whom were from Thanet. From the data of previous years, it is likely that some 500 were still missing at year’s end.

I am absolutely convinced that the large majority of schools in Kent work very hard to support children at risk of exclusion and try to avoid losing them through one of the reasons described below, as far as possible. 

Permanent Exclusion
The Director of Kent County Council Education has published two articles on exclusion in the past year: Permanent and Fixed Term Exclusion for 2016-17; and January 2018 updateThe total number of exclusions in Kent was 68 for 2016-17. KCC has worked hard and successfully with schools to force numbers down from its height of 210 in 2011-12, including 41 statemented children, when I highlighted the two issues and attracted political and media pressure to see numbers reduced.

Given reports that the number of permanent exclusions is rising around the country, Kent’s remarkable record of the lowest proportion of secondary school permanent exclusions in the South East at 0.05% in 2015-16 ( a third of the national percentage) is likely to see its national position  of 13th lowest rate in the country with 51 exclusions improve even further when 2016-17 outcomes are published, at 49 secondary permanent exclusions. The proportion from primary schools at 0.01% of the population is negligible, at half the national rate.

There were just three children excluded who had Statements of SEN or Education Health Care Plans (the replacement classification) last year; contrast this with the 25 permanent exclusions of statemented children in 2013-14 out of a total of 87 or the 41 of 2011-12. For many years government policy has been that for statemented children exclusion should be a very last resort, but there remains considerable concern over the large numbers nationally. Kent has seen around one fifth of the national average of statemented/EHCP pupils permanently excluded in 2016-17, although I was still contacted by too many such families where the school was threatening exclusion unless they moved the child elsewhere.   

With numbers this low in Kent, it could be that a single major issue can give rise to a jump in exclusion figures for a school. It is perhaps unfortunate that Knole Academy is the only one of the five secondary schools with more than five permanent exclusions in one of the last three years, to suffer this fate twice. Given comments below, it may be relevant that three of the others are Ebbsfleet Academy, High Weald Academy and New Line Learning Academy.

However, some schools have taken up alternative strategies to exclusion to force 'undesirable' children out, such as encouraging families to change schools, take up Home Education for their children (see below), or transferring children to Pupil Referral Units designed for those at risk of exclusion (see below).

There has been growing concern about schools removing pupils in Years 10 and 11 to improve GCSE performance. 22 of the Kent exclusions were from these Year Groups, which I don’t think is a large enough number or proportion to suggest that exclusion is being used as a tool in this way.

When I investigated and wrote about the illegal exclusion of up to 32 students at the end of Year 12 at Invicta Grammar School in 2016, I did not anticipate it becoming the national scandal into which it developed. The effect of the rules being widely made available by government, so that the illegality became well known, has had a powerful consequence for staying on rates in grammar schools. In 2016, 264 students left or were forced out of Kent grammar schools at the end of Year 12. By 2017, when the rules were well known, this figure fell to 165, most of whom I must assume left for legitimate reasons. It is not possible to quantify the situation regarding non-selective schools, as so many pupils follow one year courses at these schools. 

Elective Home Education (EHE)
Kent has historically had the largest number and the largest proportion of EHE children in the country for some years. However, there is no official data kept, the best analysis being by a private researcher looking at 2013-14 figures. In that year, Kent had 1117 new cases, with Essex second largest at 583. In 2015, the BBC identified a 65% increase in EHE over six years to 2015, and it appears that numbers have been increasing further nationally since then. However, KCC has been in dialogue with families and now appears over the peak with 925 new cases in 2016-17. These were made up of: 338 primary children, 570 secondary; seven from Special schools; and 10 from PRUs. I suspect the total remains amongst the highest in the country, but it is certainly surprising that, with such a strong government interest in EHE recently, there appears no national collection of data.

One complication is the variety of reasons for choosing EHE, a list by the BBC reads: lifestyle choice; dissatisfaction or conflict with the local school; cultural reasons; bullying; special needs; or failure to get into a school of choice, as the main ones in order.

In Kent, the largest numbers are in Swale – 147 new cases; Maidstone – 119 new cases; Thanet – 100; and Dartford – 81.

After Ebbsfleet Academy at 4.1% of the school’s total roll – the equivalent of more than one child in every class leaving for EHE; and Oasis Isle of Sheppey Academy at 3.3%; come Hartsdown Academy 3.1%; Community College Whitstable and New Line Learning Academy 2.8%; and High Weald Academy 2.6%. All six are the schools of last choice in their local areas with few if any alternative schools available, and so inevitably take in numbers of children who have been turned down by all their preferences. This will inevitably have an effect on parental dissatisfaction if children are at schools they did not choose.  

It is no coincidence that the first three of these schools are the Tough Love Academies, accounting for 15% of the total, about which I have written several times before. Certainly, from parents I have talked with who have withdrawn their children from Sheppey and Ebbsfleet, it has not been a matter of choice, rather the final straw with several reporting threats by the school to leave or else face exclusion which, if proven would be unlawful. Sheppey operates what I believe to be an unlawful isolation system often for petty reasons, which could amount to abuse to improve behaviour. This is called 'Reflection' and appears designed to alienate its victims. Interestingly, this week I have had reports surfacing of staff being bullied at Ebbsfleet.

Hartsdown, NLL and High Weald all have sectional communities who may regard schooling as optional, compounding the issue. Hartsdown in Thanet also suffers because with all schools technically full, and a transient population with considerable levels of deprivation, it will tend to fill spaces with children who present a challenge, such as language, culture or Children in Care placed in Thanet by London Boroughs. The school’s headteacher describes Margate as ‘on the margins of English society, both culturally and economically’ and his own intake as having: ‘many who come from extremely challenging backgrounds. 27% of our students are EAL, with 10% Roma. Margate has become a bridge head for eastern European immigration and Hartsdown has specialised in integrating unaccompanied asylum seeking minors. 57% of our students are disadvantaged / pupil premium’. 

For reasons I still completely fail to understand, KCC refused to provide anwers to my FOI request for information on the Year Groups of pupils who left for EHE. See below, although they eventually provided me with everything I wanted and almost everything I had requested in the first place. Given current government concerns over issues around Home Education, most recently the number of children being forced out before GCSE, I find this attitude bewildering.

As it happens, the additional data has not substantiated my theory that Kent schools were forcing children out to improve GCSE results, as is reportedly happening with too many nationally, although some appear to use an alternative tactic in Swale and North West Kent (see PRU below).

The 338 primary leavers for EHE are spread across a wide range of schools, the eleven with five or more withdrawals including Drapers Mill and Dame Janet Primary Academies, in Thanet, and Minster and Richmond Academies, on the Isle of Sheppey, all in areas of considerable deprivation, together with Edenbridge Primary near Sevenoaks, recently placed in Special Measure whose failures including unchecked bullying.

The articulate and vociferous lobby for Elective Home Education and against regulation appears to consider their life-style choice to be the only reason to make it as a choice. They do a massive disservice to the victims of the system as described above, for whom it is no choice. 

Pupil Referral Units (PRU)
PRUs are designed primarily as a short term respite both for pupils at risk of exclusion and for their schools. There are five of these across Kent with two, in Swale and NW Kent, being the only ones generally accepting pupils on long term placements so that they are removed from the school roll and examination statistics.

Both these two are controversial, the Swale Inclusion Unit (SIU) being effectively managed by the Swale Academies Trust whose two schools use it extensively for both types of placement, and the failed NW Kent Alternative Provision Unit.

The North West Kent Alternative Provision Service (PRU), which had 36 of these pupils on Long Term Placements in October 2017, has failed them badly, as recorded by Ofsted in its Inspection Report when the PRU was found Inadequate, partly because ‘The local authority did not keep a close enough watch on the school between 2013 and 2016’. A new Headteacher is making reported to be making improvements.

For 2015-16, 21 of the 41 pupils taken off roll by their schools and placed in SIU were from the two Swale Academy Schools, Sittingbourne Community College and Westlands School, a further 6 from Oasis Isle of Sheppey. After I drew attention to this practice last year, the figure fell to 10 out of 26 in 2016-17, again with 6 from Sheppey.

The figures for NW Kent were smaller with 9 in 2015-16 rising to 19 in January 2017, but with the recent surge to 36 as reported by Ofsted. Census figures suggest that a considerable part of the increase is from pupils previously on the roll of Ebbsfleet Academy. 

For what is called dual Registration (i.e. pupils remained on their home school roll), there were a total of 561 pupils in 2016-17, including 10 from primary schools. Largest users were: Hartsdown placing 32 pupils, Oasis Isle of Sheppey 27 and Sittingbourne Community College 24. No one else had more than 20. NOTE: These figures are lower than in my previous version as I had included children from the Kent Education Health Needs Service in error. For that reason I have removed Langafel Primary from my list. 

Children Missing from Education
On top of all this, is the large swathe of children whose existence is known about, but whose circumstances are not. Many of these may be victims of child exploitation, or slavery, certainly some are children in Care and others unaccompanied child immigrants or refugees. There were 2,292 children who went missing at some time in 2016-17, and I am awaiting further data. Figures from 2014-15 show that of the 2173 children who were reported missing at some time in that year all but 419 were traced, 769 within ten days, but another 290 after more than 50 days.

Unsurprisingly, the largest figure for 2016-17 was in Thanet at 333, followed by 287 in Swale, 241 in Gravesham and 231 in Dover, all the way down to 67 in Sevenoaks.

 

Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy
The first reason supplied by KCC to block my request was claimed to be a ruling by the Information Commissioner that was not supplied to me. When I got to the detail of the ruling, it turned out to be irrelevant and a complete irony. For years I have argued against the release by KCC of individual pupils' Kent Test scores after FOI requests for details of the outcome including scores of every child in a school, usually immediately after  results are sent out, so that inquisitive parents can often work out the  outcomes for individual children as a form of voyeurism. But I have had concerns expressed by parents that others of children in the same school have harried them to find out details. This information is useless when preparing an appeal; if the child is looking at a super selective school which I think is often the case, I presume they can look at all the relevant scores and  guess their child's chances of being awarded a place; an utterly pointless task as there are too many variables outside the scores. There is therefore no point in it, but KCC has persisted in supplying the information which often appears publicly on an FOI request website. I have been convinced this breaks personal protection rules and am delighted at last that, following a parental request it will not happen again! This was irrelevant to my request as I did not ask for FOI details at schools where fewer than four children were involved, and had been happily provided with this in previous years. I finished up going to Internal Review, the stage before a complaint to the Information Commissioner and engaged in dialogue with a county solicitor at presumably considerable expense. I eventually had a length letter quoting again the irrelevant Information Commissioner's ruling and informing me that KCC now operated on a barrier of five pupils, which of course I would have been quite happy with initially and was as the information was supplied to me without apology, justification of the original decision, or explanation for the change of mind!  
 
Conclusions
This is a survey of happenings across the county, not a polemic article, and the reasons for many of these findings remains unclear.

Probably the biggest question remains: is the very low level of permanent exclusions achieved through encouraging the high rates of EHE and transfer to PRUs?

Whilst I can see evidence that a few schools are actively promoting this for difficult or low performing pupils, I am unconvinced the practice is widespread. Many vociferous lobbyists for EHE will argue that choosing to home educate is generally a life style choice, but this is not the case and it is far more complicated, as my article shows.

I have shown that other reasons for EHE in Kent are indeed those in the BBC list: living in an area of deprivation which may also tie in with failure to be awarded any school of one’s choice, itself often associated with dissatisfaction with the school attended. Bullying occurs in several of the examples above; and cultural issues can include an ambivalence about school attendance and membership.

There is also a vociferous lobby arguing that EHE is an easy way out for inadequate or uncaring families. This may be true for some, but in either case, the child will not receive any education, which will present a much bigger problem for society when they grow up. They should not be abandoned, but whose responsibility is it to tackle the issue?

Then there are the children missing from education, in some cases vanished completely. Whilst I feel it is completely out of my self-defined limits to comment on the horrendous issues this may be covering up, surely it needs a much higher priority than it is currently awarded by government.

Last modified on Tuesday, 28 August 2018 16:37

3 comments

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 24 April 2018 00:24 posted by Max Williamson

    Hartsdown had an Ofsted last month. Will this be the end of the dreadful Mr Tate and his potty ideas? PETER: Some misguided people in authority think that Tough Love is the way forward. Never mind the children!

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 17 April 2018 21:41 posted by Mrs C

    An excellent article as always Peter but as a parent who is Home Educating I am neither inadequate or uncaring, I had no option my children attended Oasis and you in many articles have written of how the school has let many children down as it did with mine. My children along with many families I know of on the Island receive an excellent education as HE children. Whilst at school reflection denied my children both an education and any social interaction so I would argue the school was inadequate and uncaring. My children are privately tutored 3 hours a week in addition to the education provided by myself which is an inclusive curriculum. If schools weren't failing families there would not be the rise in HE and I think it's down to Government cuts to funding particularly with regards to SEN Children. Education is no longer just that it's a business run by Mat's which government promote and sadly it's children who lose out.. PETER I am sorry; there is no suggestion you are inadequate or uncaring.You have the misfortune to live on the Isle of Sheppey, whose academy is certainly one of those creating EHE by its failure to provide a proper education. As always, I ask the question why does no one in Authority, including the local Member of Parliament, Gordon Henderson, and County Councillors Andy Booth and Ken Pugh, appear to care what is going on!

  • Comment Link Monday, 16 April 2018 11:42 posted by JL

    A really interesting article and quite shocking that KCC do not keep, or at least divulge the numbers of children being home schooled. I suspect this number is on a sharp incline for children with SEN, with higher needs funding in mainstream primary schools becoming a barrier and what seems like hugely oversubscribed special schools, forcing increased class sizes. Surely EHE is a symptom of lack of provision that KCC should acknowledge PETER: They did produce the detail I was after, after a challenge through Internal Review. As I indicate, the reasons for choosing EHE are complex as my article explains, and I can't see how to get the data on SEN you would like, as the children you refer to have not I think been able to access Higher Needs Funding. With regard to oversubscription, I think I have demonstrated this is a major issue in the six schools with the highest EHE data, along with inadequacies in most of the schools themselves, along with a pattern of severe deprivation in some of the areas.

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