'Dumping grounds': Eight key points from today's alternative-provision hearing

MPs hear concerns about internal units becoming 'dumping grounds', as well as perverse incentives for schools to exclude pupils

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The Commons Education Select Committee today held its second evidence session for its inquiry into alternative provision.

Here are eight key points that came out of the hearing, which fielded campaigners, academics and a headteacher.

  1. Internal inclusion units can be ‘dumping grounds’
    Internal units within schools for children having difficulty in mainstream lessons can be misused, an academic told the committee. Val Gillies, professor of social policy  and criminology at the University of Westminster, said that “unless there is a very clearly defined objective for these units, they can end up as a dumping ground for difficult, challenging pupils”. She added that three schools she had researched had policies in place stating that pupils should only be in such units for four-to-six weeks, but “in reality young people stayed in there for far longer; in one school they were there for years. In fact, young people would come in from primary schools and never touch the mainstream. They went straight to the units.”
     
  2. Financial incentives to exclude pupils
    Matthew Dodd, co-coordinator and policy adviser for the Special Educational Consortium, raised concerns that the funding system gives schools a perverse incentive to exclude children because the costs associated with them transfer to local authorities. He said: “There is a big issue about these blocks of funding, and [about] where the incentives are between the schools block and the high-needs block.”
     
  3. ‘Not enough scrutiny’ of decisions is affecting children
    Dodd said there was not enough scrutiny “at all levels”, including decisions to exclude children or put them in a particular pupil-referral unit, as well as about how children who have been excluded can re-enter mainstream education. He called for research into how such decisions are made.
     
  4. There is not enough information about how internal units perform
    Committee chair Robert Halfon asked whether regulator Ofsted should measure the success of internal behaviour units for pupils. Gillies called for a measure of how many such units exist, and added: “We have no idea what their progress is. There are no records kept anywhere, so that would be quite important.”
     
  5. Progress 8 ‘increases the incentive to exclude children’
    The committee heard renewed concerns that the new Progress 8 and Attainment 8 accountability measures increased the incentive for more exclusions because of the weighting if a child fails. Asked whether these measures did give schools an added motive for removing children from their rolls, Drew Povey, headteacher of Harrop Fold School, answered: “Yes, absolutely it does. If you have a student that’s not going to reach levels of progress for a myriad of different reasons, you will see significant impact on the school’s overall scores.”
     
  6. Support for a bill of rights for parents
    Witnesses supported calls from Halfon for a ‘bill of rights’ that would tell parents what the procedures were for excluding pupils, while still allowing headteachers to exclude. Dodd told MPs that “anything that sets out very clearly what rights parents have, what rights children have, would be welcome”, while Gillies said such a bill of rights, together with advocacy support, would help prevent the relationship between parents and teachers breaking down.
     
  7. Zero-tolerance policies ‘could be illegal’
    Zero-tolerance behaviour policies that do not include “reasonable adjustments” for pupils with disabilities could be illegal, Dodd told MPs. Answering a question from Labour MP Emma Hardy, he added that “the rigidity of the new curriculum is a major barrier to inclusive teaching”.
     
  8. Concerns about ‘completely unregulated’ system for alternative-provision referrals
    Dodd contrasted the structured system in place to support children with SEND, which includes education, health and care plans and an appeals process, with what he said was a lack of regulation about how pupils are referred to alternative provision. He said: “We don’t see why we have a very tightly regulated system that many children go through, and a completely unregulated system of referrals that another group of children go through.”

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