The Exclusion Debate

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Is excluding a child really the right answer?

With a “sudden increase in exclusions” what does it all mean, and should we be worried about what we hear?

Let’s start with some facts,

  • In 10 years, exclusions have decreased overall, but in the last 5 years, there has been a significant increase.
  • The highest category, in general, is persistent disruptive behaviour.
  • Pupils eligible for Free School Meals accounted for 40% of all exclusions.
  • In special schools alone, the most common reason for exclusion was a physical assault against an adult.

It is worth taking some time to study the figures as the analysis is extensive. There are also a variety of tools and maps to look at which can offer a fascinating insight.

Why the increase?

A variety of people in the educational world have offered some thoughts as to what might have caused this increase and the reality is that all of the following factors have contributed to the situation.

1 Progress 8

For many, the introduction of Progress 8 has demanded a more academic-rich curriculum for schools in general. Essentially, what it has done is narrowed the field of GCSE’s that can count towards whole school data and in turn, schools have reduced GCSE Options to ensure their data maximises the Progress 8 restrictions, for example, a greater emphasis may have been placed on languages over the arts. Previously, in some schools, a number of students would have taken vocational subjects alongside their 5 GCSE’s however, this alternative provision has also been reduced. Often, vocational subjects supported our most hard to reach students who were most at risk of exclusion.

2 Austerity and funding cuts

Over recent years there has been a significant reduction in support services such as behaviour support teams and organisations like Connexions which provided a subtle but highly valued level of support for hard to reach children.

3 Off-Rolling

“Off-rolling” has been going on for years but really only recently has it come to light and presented to the public: when a child is permanently excluded from a school their exam results go to their new school, which in most cases is a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) or Alternative Provision (AP). Schools can therefore significantly improve their GCSE results data by “off-rolling” key students. The majority of permanent exclusions happen in Year 10 and in the build-up to GCSEs in Year 11.

Exclude At Your Peril?

Regardless of the reasons, there are always huge implications caused by permanent exclusions – the biggest of which is for the child. Many children feel angry about their exclusion, they feel let down by their school and teachers. They also feel very nervous about going to a PRU or AP as they may have heard negative stories about them. They can also be in an unfamiliar town and up to an hour from home. As with all schools, their experience at a PRU can vary greatly and, like everything, there are ones that do better than others.

Many students can achieve more in the end as they are taught in smaller classes and their attendance at school improves. However, this isn’t always the case and for some, their future dreams and aspirations are shot to pieces.

We also can’t ignore the reality that children in PRUs are at a greater risk of being groomed into gangsAnne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, reminds us that “It’s easier for gangs to be able to access vulnerable children if they are all in one place.”

It is clear that even the children themselves are painfully aware of the pathway that exclusion can take them down when this year on GCSE results day a group of students from South London made a powerful statement by hacking the London Underground.

Stressed to the Hilt

It can also be a very stressful time for parents with many having serious disruption to their home and working life. But moving to a PRU could be less stressful than imagined. Many parents are eternally grateful for the support they and their child receive at a PRU. They report they have achieved so much more as a result.

Whenever we talk about exclusions it is important that we talk about those that benefit from certain children being removed from the school. What about the other 28, or so, children? Lessons can be significantly less disruptive and learning can be so much better without the disruption.

So, what’s the answer?

Some local authorities are considering fining schools up to £5,000 if they permanently exclude a child. Gloucestershire is not alone in this, but it is evidence that the local authorities are starting to recognise the issue.

I suggest we need to shift education back to being child-centered. In many instances, exclusions are the right choice for everyone. However, it is true and sad to say that more and more children are being side-lined to benefit school results. This simply has to stop.

Exclusions should be a last resort when all other options have been exhausted. If schools were held accountable for the children after exclusions there will be a shift in mentality around the impact. One small change could make a very big difference.

Sian Edwards

Sian is an education consultant. Her experiences and responsibilities are broad, ranging from being a mainstream Dance teacher and AST to being Deputy Head in a large and successful PRU. She is passionate about education and in particular, the learning experience for all children. It has always been important to her to ensure that children get the best deal possible and she enjoys working collaboratively with peers to make this happen.

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