Schools 'incentivised' to permanently exclude children, DfE finds

Alternative provision providers believe schools permanently exclude pupils to escape funding obligations

In terms of alternative provision, both pupils and teachers deserve better, writes Pamela Dow

Alternative provision providers fear mainstream schools are choosing to permanently exclude difficult pupils to save on costs, according to new government research.

The study, published this morning, has found that providers of alternative provision (AP) for excluded pupils see it as being in mainstream schools' financial interests to permanently rather than temporarily exclude.

“There was a strong view among some AP providers that schools were incentivised to permanently exclude children at the expense of fixed-term exclusions because local authorities funded placements for permanently excluded pupils, whereas schools funded those for fixed- term exclusions,” the report for the Department for Education notes. 

“AP providers described this as short-sighted, as permanent exclusion would cost the [local authority] more in the longer term and they deemed short-term placements to be highly effective in reducing permanent exclusions.”

The research, by University College London and University of Nottingham academics, comes as concerns mount that services for children who have left the mainstream school system are not keeping up with demand.

Figures published this summer reveal permanent exclusions increased by 15 per cent in a year.

Earlier this year, DfE-commissioned research found that 90 per cent of secondary school headteachers believed there were not enough places in AP for pupils with mental health needs.

A survey of almost 2,000 teachers found that 84 per cent of school leaders thought there were not enough AP places for these pupils.

The issue has been compounded by the ballooning demand for childhood mental health services.

Today's research found that many AP providers thought “poor behaviour could be a sign of SEND [special educational needs and disabilities], including SEMH (social, emotional and mental health) or autism, which is possibly unidentified at the point of referral”.

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