The number of pupils being permanently excluded in some areas has dramatically increased over the last year, figures obtained by Tes reveal.
In one local authority, permanent exclusions rose by more than 300 per cent between 2015-16 and 2016-17.
Three areas saw their permanent exclusions triple during the course of a year. Numbers at least doubled in 12 authorities and a total of 25 local authorities saw permanent exclusions increase by at least 50 per cent.
“For exclusions to be skyrocketing like that, it has to be biting somewhere,” behaviour expert Jarlath O’Brien said.
'Less capacity to handle issues'
The greatest proportional increase nationally was in Slough, where 22 pupils were excluded last year, compared with five pupils the year before – an increase of 340 per cent. Elsewhere, Redcar and Cleveland and Newcastle both had increases of more than 200 per cent.
“It’s incredible, isn’t it?” O’Brien added. “Some local authorities are doubling in more in one year. These are places that are demographically very different from each other.
“Schools have much fewer staff than they used to. If you have to lose £700,000 in a year, you lose an awful lot of support staff and attendance officers.
“So schools may feel that they have less capacity to handle issues. Instead, they’re excluding pupils.”
Freedom of information requests were sent by Tes to all 152 local authorities in England; a total of 118 responded with the relevant data.
The information shows there was an average 12 per cent rise in the numbers of pupils permanently excluded between September 2016 and 30 June 2017, compared with those excluded during the same period the previous academic year.
“The last two years have focused the lack of finance,” he said. “When cuts are made, the people supporting mental-health needs, behavioural needs – they get cut back first.
“So what you’ve got is situations where children are not being supported in the way that they were. That will lead to behavioural issues. And – most importantly – to less tolerance for maintaining children with behavioural issues in schools.”
'A last resort'
Slough Council said it would be looking into its 340 per cent rise.
“The increased number of permanent exclusions in Slough is set against a context of rising school rolls,” a spokesperson added.
But in the northeastern borough of Redcar and Cleveland – where there were a total of 22 permanent exclusions in 2016-17: an increase of 214 per cent – other explanations have been suggested.
Simon Kennedy, North-East regional organiser for the NASUWT teachers’ union, said the increase could be attributed in part to changes in a few local schools.
“In the first few years of academies opening up, they tend to have higher exclusion rates,” he said. “Their behaviour-management processes mean that a child can get a permanent exclusion quite quickly.”
Academy chain Outwood Grange ran one school in Redcar and Cleveland in 2016-17 and began supporting another, which it will take over formally this year. There were nine exclusions in 2016-17 at these two schools, compared with only one in 2015-16.
The local authority pointed out that, until two years ago, schools in the borough had had “a zero permanent exclusion rate”.
Thirty-four authorities either failed to respond to Tes’ freedom of information request or responded with incomplete information.
A DfE spokesperson says: “Any decision to exclude should be lawful, reasonable and fair. While exclusion can be used as a sanction for schools to deal with poor behaviour, 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.
“The law is clear that excluding pupils due to academic attainment is prohibited.”
The 25 local authorities with the greatest percentage increase in permanent exclusions between 2015-16 and 2016-17
Number of permanent exclusions 2015-16
Number of permanent exclusions 2016-17
Redcar and Cleveland
Isle of Wight
This is an edited article from the 8 September edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here