Schools have incentive to exclude SEND pupils, MPs told

Expert says the cost of SEND pupils can be 'the final straw' for heads who can’t pay teachers or repair buildings

off-rolling, exclusion, SEND, select committee, funding

School leaders made “desperate” by funding pressures have a perverse incentive to exclude or off-roll children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), MPs have heard.

The Commons Education Select Committee today took evidence from groups representing children with SEND.

Asked about the fact that 70 per cent of pupils who are excluded have SEND, Justin Cooke, policy and public affairs manager at Ambitious about Autism, highlighted budget pressures.

He said: “There is sadly a financial incentive for schools to off-roll or exclude SEN children, particularly when they reach the point of needing extra help that they don’t get via [an education, health and care] plan or SEN support, because they know that those children will then be the local authority’s responsibility.

“If they are placed in a special school, it comes out of the high needs block, whereas if they aided inclusion and kept them in school it would come out of their school block.”

Cooke said this was particularly the case for schools with a resourced unit, which is funded at £10,000 per place, adding: “You get that funding no matter what, so if you off-roll a pupil halfway through the year, you carry on getting that £10,000.

“If you have got a school budget that is so tight you simply can’t pay teachers, there is an incentive there to off-roll or exclude.”

In April, the government launched a consultation on closing a loophole that allows schools to keep money for pupils who are taken off the roll to be educated at home, rather than formally excluded.

According to its website, the Department for Education is currently analysing the responses.

Labour MP Ian Mearns suggested financial incentives to off-roll pupils applied to all schools, and so decisions about whether to do so depended on their ethos.

In response, Mr Cooke highlighted the financial pressures faced by “desperate” heads, as well as “extreme behaviour policies” adopted by some schools.

He said: “It can come down to the ethos of the school, whether they really want to keep those children, or it can come down to the desperation of school leaders.

“Lots of schools are running at deficits. Lots of them can’t pay their teachers or repair their buildings, and they might just think it’s the final straw.

“They just have to find cuts somewhere, and if they can save money by off-rolling some children who they think the local authority can then provide for, they might do it.

“I think it’s a desperation measure by some schools, but it is also an ethos for other schools who have, I would say, extreme behaviour policies which do not help inclusion, and they often get off-rolling and exclusion via that as well.”

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