Damian Hinds, education secretary, has been asked to consider giving local authorities more power to monitor exclusions by the chair of an influential parliamentary committee.
Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons Education Committee, has written to Mr Hinds in the wake of taking evidence on the factors leading to a rise in knife crime, stating that “there is a clear correlation between exclusions and knife crime” in a letter that calls for government action.
In the letter, he states: “Local authorities have a legal duty to find education for excluded children who may not receive suitable education. However, local authorities do not have a sufficiently strong role to play in scrutinising schools’ approaches to exclusion in the first place. We urge the department to consider giving local authorities more power to monitor exclusions.”
The committee's evidence session, held last month, heard Sir Michael Wilshaw say he felt local authorities should have a greater ability to go into academies and challenge them on exclusions. The former Ofsted chief inspector said that at the moment, local authorities felt “wary” of intervening with “very powerful chief executives”.
The committee also heard that the Metropolitan Police were planning to double the number of officers working in London schools, although in the letter today Mr Halfon asks Mr Hinds whether the DfE has a detailed understanding of turnover rates of such officers.
The letter from Mr Halfon also states that while there is not an established causal relationship between exclusions and knife crime, “there is often an overlap in the experiences and characteristics of children and young people excluded from school or involved in knife crime”. It adds that “education has an important role to play” and calls for:
- Teachers to have the right training to identify and address complex personal challenges that are associated with exclusions and knife crime.
- Resources for schools to be able to become more inclusive through, for example, having therapeutic units.
- The DfE to set out the steps it will take to ensure schools are complying with existing guidance on exclusions following an instance of knife-carrying.
- Improving alternative provision – in particular, whether the DfE is making it easy enough for successful bids for AP free schools and providing resource for post-16 support.
- The DfE to mitigate the risk that excluded pupils end up with no education because of resistance from pupil referral units in accepting pupils who have been involved in knife crime.
- The DfE to publish the Timpson Review on school exclusions.
Damian Hinds wrote to the committee on the day of the evidence session in March to set out what the DfE is doing on issue. In the letter he said that the issue was “far more complex than exclusions alone” and said that the power to exclude a pupils is an important one for head teachers.
Mr Hinds added that: “While there is no evidence of a causal link between exclusion and crime, we should recognise that children not in mainstream schools are more likely to become a victim or a perpetrator of crime or violence."
There has been growing concern about levels of knife crime, with some – including police commissioners and London mayor Sadiq Khan – arguing that knife crime is linked to the number of pupils excluded by schools.
A DfE spokesperson said: “We welcome the input from the Education Select Committee on the serious issue of knife crime.
“Knife crime and serious violence are complicated issues, which is why we are working with the education sector, the Home Office and other government departments as part of a comprehensive multi-agency response.
“The education secretary has extended an invitation to Robert Halfon to further discuss the issues raised in his letter.”