'The rise in exclusions is a national scandal and should worry all of us'

'With insufficient resources, schools feel there is little option but to exclude. One must protect the majority over the individual,' writes one former headteacher

Colin Harris

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Years of insufficient funding are taking their toll on our education system. One aspect of this has been the big rise in permanent and temporary exclusions and, sadly, the overuse of informal and unofficial exclusions.

Department for Education data shows a very sharp rise in exclusions between 2013-14 and 2014-15, and anecdotal evidence suggests this rise is continuing unabated. In 2014-15, 31 pupils were permanently excluded every day and there were 1,590 temporary exclusions.

Sad as these figures look, what is sadder still is the underlying issue that a child with special needs is seven times more likely to be excluded.

Some authorities have seen enormous rises in numbers of pupils being excluded: in Gloucestershire, for example, primary exclusions have risen by 63 per cent and secondary exclusions by 47 per cent over the past two years. There are many questions we need to ask as to why this is the case.

But whatever the answers, there is no doubt government policy and lack of funding sit at the very centre of the issue. With insufficient resources to allocate to our schools, we feel there is little option but to exclude. One must protect the majority over the individual. 

Protection of school data is often cited as a reason, as well as rising class sizes making it difficult to meet individual needs. We also have some inexperienced teachers who are not sufficiently trained in special needs.

And then what happens to these pupils?

We appreciate that the government has a statutory liability to provide provision. But the units I have experienced are full to breaking point. And so we end up with pupils already alienated from school life being provided with one- or two-hour days and insufficient time being allocated to their academic or emotional needs. Is it any wonder that after time spent at these units they are insufficiently prepared to return to their school.

We also have the rise in unofficial or informal exclusions. Sending pupils off to "cool down" with a promise that "we will contact you soon" is no answer when the reality is that the school does everything in their power to stop the pupil returning. It's no surprise then that we have seen a 65 per cent increase in the number of pupils being home-educated over the past six years. Parents have listed their reasons for this thus:

  • Lifestyle
  • Dissatisfaction or disagreement with their local school/s
  • Special needs not being met
  • Bullying issues not being resolved and 
  • Religion

Figures for 2015 suggest that some 36,600 pupils were being taught at home (it's possible that the true figures are even higher) but we know little of what education these pupils are receiving.

It is a national scandal that our education system has had to resort to formal and informal exclusions to cover the fact that, owing to cutbacks, we are unable to meet the needs of our pupils. And which group suffer the most yet again? Yes, the most vulnerable. We cannot be proud of the fact that one in 20 secondary pupils experienced an exclusion of one kind or another this year.

There are many issues to address. First, we need more resources available to address these issues, but we can also do the following:

  • Intervene earlier before these issues become entrenched
  • Create a far better dialogue with parents and carers
  • Utilise school "inclusion" systems better and recognise good practice in this area
  • Recognise some pupils need a different curriculum using vocational opportunities
  • Show belief and persistence with these pupils

For many children school is the only consistent thing in their lives. We should never forget this.

Colin Harris has led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were "outstanding" across all categories

To read more of Colin's articles, visit his back catalogue

For more on illegal exclusions, read our in-depth investigation in the 14 July edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article hereTo subscribe, click hereTo download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents

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Colin Harris

Colin Harris

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were “outstanding” across all categories.

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