Just as most schools were breaking up for the summer holidays in July, the DfE published their latest annual statistics on exclusions. Indeed, exclusion is a hot topic at the moment, mainly as a result of the growing concern than an increasing number of exclusions may not be fair, reasonable or even legal.
The facts and figures
Headline figures from the DfE data show that the rate of permanent exclusions in England has remained stable but the rate of fixed period exclusions has seen an increase of 8%. These figures can be attributed to a number of factors, but what is concerning is the fact that certain groups of pupils are more likely to be excluded than others; if you are a young person with SEND, eligible for free school meals, from certain ethnic backgrounds, in year 9 or above and male, your chances of being excluded are significantly higher.
Let’s look more specifically at the data for SEND. The proportion of exclusions accounted for by pupils with SEND is down slightly: for permanent exclusions, to 45% from 47% and for fixed period exclusions, to 43% from 45%. Although it is pleasing that there has been a decrease, the number of exclusions that are accounted for by pupils with SEND is still too high, particularly for pupils with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs. This group account for the largest proportion of excluded SEND pupils by far.
Exclusion should only ever be used as a last resort, and schools have a requirement under the Equality Act to put reasonable adjustments in place to ensure no child is ever unlawfully excluded because of their disability or additional needs. So we need to ask ourselves, why are so many pupils with SEND still being excluded, and if a pupil has a mental health need, for example, what reasonable adjustments are in place to support them to remain included?
The Timpson Review
The DfE data parallels some of the findings from the recent Timpson review. In March 2018 the government commissioned Edward Timpson to carry out a review of school exclusion to identify current exclusion practice and to understand why some groups of pupils are more likely to be excluded. Published in May 2019, the review concluded that there is a lot of good practice in many schools but there is more we can do to ensure every exclusion is lawful, reasonable and fair and that permanent exclusion is always a last resort. The review also draws our attention to the concerns around exclusion of pupils with SEND.
The Timpson review makes a series of 30 recommendations to the government which include:
- Firmer guidelines to schools to ensure the appropriate use of exclusions
- Greater coordination between schools and external agencies to promote effective intervention
- More support for alternative provision (AP) providers to ensure good education for pupils who are excluded
- Strengthened training for mental health leads and SENCOs
- Making schools accountable for the educational outcomes of excluded pupils
The government has agreed with the recommendations and wants to build on the good practice identified in the report. We know that the exclusions guidance will be updated by summer 2020 and that the government have committed to funding a £10 million pounds behaviour programme. However, there are a number of actions schools can be taking now.
A whole school approach
Exclusions are underpinned by the school behaviour policy and the whole school ethos. Whilst some schools operate a firm but fair behaviour policy, others have adopted a zero-tolerance policy, where there is inflexibility and sometimes no consideration of reasonable adjustments. This can be difficult for pupils who struggle to conform. The most effective schools do not adopt a one-size-fits-all approach, but instead take into account the varying needs of individual pupils.
According to the DfE data, the biggest increase in reasons for exclusion is ‘persistent disruptive behaviour’. Effective schools closely monitor the implementation of their behaviour policy and its impact on individuals. Using tools such as Provision Map, they are able to track behaviour incidents and support pupils to reflect and act upon situations where they are frequently demonstrating ‘undesirable’ behaviours.
Keeping a close watch on behaviour incidents can support teachers to understand some of the reasons behind the behaviour. Training staff to develop their understanding of the different behaviours exhibited by pupils is key. Behaviour is often the consequence of an unmet need, so what about pupils with SEMH? Any behaviour that is severe enough to warrant exclusion is likely to be indicative of a social or emotional difficulty and requires reasonable adjustments and additional provision to be put in place. Having a strong link between pastoral teams and SEN teams within the schools can support staff to develop a holistic understanding of the pupil and all the contextual factors that can affect their behaviour.
The importance of collaboration
Where pupils have complex SEMH needs, collaboration with other professionals, such as CAMHS workers or educational psychologists, may be required to support the pupil to remain in school.
Partnership with parents is also key. It is important that parents are fully informed of any situation where their child is at risk of exclusion, that they understand the legal implications and are involved in the processes. Parents may find it useful to be directed to the publication ‘School Exclusion, The Parent Guide’. Written by SENDCO and Edukey Consultant Abigail Hawkins, this book provides a useful guide for parents on exclusions and its implications for them and their child.
What else can schools do?
Here are some further examples of actions schools can consider to support an inclusive, rather than an exclusive, approach:
- Clear structures and routines for pupils
- Additional support for transition
- Early identification of additional needs
- Child-centred approaches, with the voice of the pupil at the centre
- Appropriate reasonable adjustments to support pupils in their learning
- Prioritising High Quality Teaching
- Mentoring or counselling programmes
- Nurture group provision
- Restorative approaches
- Effective use of in-school units
- Use of therapists or specialist teachers
Where schools are implementing additional provisions and interventions for individuals or groups of pupils, these can be recorded, monitored, tracked and evaluated using Provision Map.
Getting the curriculum right
Additional provision is all well and good, but we need to start by considering what the core curriculum offer is for pupils who may be at risk of exclusion. Ofsted has been ‘calling out’ for a while now the fact that a number of pupils are being excluded illegally and that this will be addressed within the new inspection framework.
The new framework places an increased emphasis on the intent, implementation and impact of the curriculum. Schools need to ensure their curriculum for all pupils is ambitious, appropriate and relevant. For some pupils at risk of exclusion, this may mean being offered a wider range of options rather than the curriculum being narrowed, or access to high quality alternative provision with a more bespoke curriculum package. If the curriculum is right, the child or young person has a purpose to stay in school!
Impacting on life chances
The impact of exclusion on the future life chances of young people is significant. Figures show that around only 4% of excluded pupils go on to get the qualifications they need to access the workforce effectively. For pupils with SEND who have been excluded, this figure is even lower.
Exclusion, both fixed period and permanent, is an important tool for head teachers as part of an effective approach to behaviour management. However, there is more we can do to support all staff to understand and respond to individual pupils at risk of exclusion, particularly those with SEND, so that exclusion is always the last resort.