Make exclusion a last resort

27th June 2008 at 01:00
Forced removal of children from mainstream schooling can affect them for the rest of their lives. These pupils must be supported and allowed to continue their education
Forced removal of children from mainstream schooling can affect them for the rest of their lives. These pupils must be supported and allowed to continue their education

Some believe exclusions - fixed or permanent - should be used only as a last resort. The opposing view is that readily using exclusion makes it clear that rebellious behaviour will not be tolerated by a school.

The initial view of the National Behaviour and Attendance Review (NBAR) was that existing guidance on exclusions in Wales was adequate, but that certain sections of the Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills (DCELLS) guidance could be revised, tightened and clarified.

But we found exclusion practice varied so much across the 22 local authorities and schools in Wales - even within the same authority - that we changed our minds.

We found that a small minority of secondaries were largely responsible for about half of all fixed-term or permanent exclusions in Wales, and we wondered why. So we formed the opinion that existing regulations needed further tightening. We also considered that the Assembly government should introduce new legislation to address concerns about the outcomes for excluded pupils in the short and long term.

The group also considered that too many pupils were being excluded for inappropriate reasons. We support exclusion for acts of violence against staff and peers, but feel that fixed-term exclusion should be seen as a last line of defence, rather than for minor offences. We listened with interest to the evidence from heads and local authorities, and noted a wide spectrum of views. Most were totally in favour of inclusive and empathetic approaches where possible.

Excluding pupils from school regularly has consequences for them for the rest of their lives. Research evidence suggests that excluded pupils are more likely to offend, to be sent to jail, and to commit serious crimes in later life.

We concluded that it is essential for excluded pupils to continue to receive their education, and we believe this should be the focus for new legislation. Schools and local authorities, along with parents andor carers, should be given a statutory responsibility to consider and assess the needs of each excluded pupil, within a maximum of 10 days from the date of the first exclusion, by means of a "pathways finder" meeting. This is entirely possible with the support of the Association of Directors of Education in Wales and the goodwill of heads.

Each local authority should have a named and permanent inclusion officer (or collaborate with a neighbouring authority) to provide advice and training on all matters relating to exclusions. Above all, there is a need for consistency in the practice of fixed and permanent exclusions throughout Wales and in the appeals process. For these reasons, we believe new Assembly legislation should be introduced to cover fixed-term exclusions, permanent exclusions and the subsequent appeal processes.

We also believe the practice of endorsing unofficial (illegal) exclusions should stop now, as recommended by the Children's Commissioner for Wales Report in 2006 and by the chief inspector in Wales.

Also - and in a sense worse - it became clear during our review that a series of "unofficial arrangements" were being made in which schools, local authorities (when known), pupils and parents are agreeing not to send their children to school, or to do so part-time - perhaps for one or two days a week, or for two or three hours a day. We cannot support these practices.

Our evidence is that there are far more pupils being excluded "unofficially" than previously believed, although it is not possible to measure this problem accurately.

Equally, managed transfers, or managed moves, are being used differently by schools and local authorities. This partly depends on local practice, available places and individual school and pupil situations. This grey area must also be clarified.

The lack of reintegration of excluded pupils back into schools is another key issue. We found little evidence in cases of fixed-term, permanent, unofficial exclusions, and even managed moves, that successful reintegration was regularly being achieved.

Evidence from schools and local authorities in North Wales, for example, showed that reintegration was never or only rarely achieved. We wondered why existing policies could vary as much as a comparison of the statistics between near neighbours Conwy and Gwynedd would show.

The Assembly government also needs to review existing funding for excluded pupils.

Placement in a small-group setting is expensive. It is vital that each placement be adequately funded and that heads of pupil referral units (PRUs), and other means of alternative provision, should be sufficient for that provision to be fit for purpose. We need clear funding arrangements for those not on the roll of mainstream school.

We believe the Assembly government should ask the inspection body Estyn to follow up schools that consistently exclude pupils at a rate significantly above the average. The situation also needs monitoring by local authorities.

Finally, more research is needed into the extent and number of pupils who are out of school and not enrolled anywhere in Wales, including those in PRUs or those being home-tutored or home-educated.

The administrative arrangements to follow progress and record details on these "missing pupils" also require considerable improvement, although this is a difficult and complex task.

Professor Ken Reid is deputy vice-chancellor of Swansea Metropolitan University and chair of the National Behaviour and Attendance Review.

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