'We need to make sure excluded children still get the chance of a decent education'

2nd December 2017 at 14:02
From football-funded free schools to boxing academies, great progress is being made on tackling the problem of excluded pupils. But there's still a long way to go, writes one veteran education journalist

I'd like to draw to your attention a little-publicised report by the charity Adoption UK showing the devastating effect exclusion can have on children.

It highlights the story of Joe whose mother says his behaviour has deteriorated since being permanently excluded from his secondary school to the extent that he is more aggressive, inward-looking and uncommunicative. He is currently in a pupil referral unit.

The report, a survey of 2,084 of the charity's members, finds that adopted children are 20 times more likely to be permanently excluded from school.

Not surprisingly, it makes out a case for better training of staff to be more sensitive in their dealings with adopted children – many of whom will have already have suffered traumas in their lifetimes already.

The survey did unearth the fact that the Department for Education is currently conducting a review of policy on permanent exclusion, which is no bad thing.

A whole host of events, including cuts in spending, have meant we have not moved on far enough from the days when exclusion meant one or two hours of teaching at a PRU at best and a life on the streets getting into even more trouble at worst.

There have been some imaginative ways of tackling the problem of excluded pupils: football clubs have played their part, with Sunderland in particular praised for setting up a unit at the Stadium of Light, the home of the football club. Everton, too, have set up a free school devoted to alternative provision. It at least gives the excluded pupils more of an incentive to turn up, especially if there is the prospect of some downtime footy at their disposal at the end of the day.

Another initiative has been the setting of units offering boxing as a way of re-engaging kids with education. (Not sure I would want this particular remedy, as I never won a single bout at my school – principally because I didn't want to hit my fellow classmates – but I am assured it is a good way of channelling aggression positively.)

Finally, I would commend some schools for setting up their own units on site rather than relying on sending pupils to a far more remote PRU. That would, I am sure, make re-integration into mainstream education easier.

The review may look at schools' use of exclusions, and there are two practices I would like to see banned: schools telling parents to keep their children at home but not recording them as permanent exclusions, and children who are struggling academically being excluded to try and improve the school's exam performance and league table position.

That having been said, there is a case for ensuring that the worst offenders are excluded. There have been cases of pupils who have carried out assaults (both on teachers and their fellow pupils) and boys who have sexually assaulted one of their peers being reinstated on a technicality because the proper procedures have not been gone through. In these cases, teachers have had to resort to industrial action to solve the problem.

So, let us hope the review is fruitful and bears in mind that one of the consequences of forcing schools to give priority to adopted children in admissions is that their teachers will need adequate training to cope with their new charges' difficulties.

At a time when ministers are boasting of giving an extra £1.3 billion to schools while taking it away from other parts of the education service, we have to make sure excluded children still get the chance of a decent education and help in trying to socialise with other children.

Richard Garner was education editor of The Independent for 12 years, and previously news editor of Tes. He has been writing about education for more than three decades. 

To read more columns by Richard, view his back catalogue

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