No particular place to go

9th February 1996 at 00:00
Clare Jenkins reports on a new study showing that the number and seriousness of primary exclusions are increasing are increasing Sean and Peter are brothers aged 8 and 11. In their short lives, they have had more than 30 addresses, more or less lost touch with their mother, and been rejected as too difficult by foster and prospective adoptive parents, partly because their own relationship is violent. Now their primary school has excluded them permanently: Sean for abusive language, causing damage to the school, and truancy; Peter for verbal abuse and for carrying a knife.

At 10, Pippa has a police record - for running away from home and stealing from shops. At school, she would disrupt the other children, steal from them and destroy property belonging to the teacher. She was permanently excluded after becoming violent, kicking a hole in the headteacher's office door, and shouting and screaming for an hour while three adults tried to control her.

By the time eight-year-old Martin was excluded, his school's non-teaching assistant had resigned because of his behaviour; his class teacher, with 18 years' experience of teaching in five city schools, was close to doing the same; some of his classmates were presenting problems, including bed-wetting, and parents were complaining. All this after 18 months of support, including having his grandmother in the classroom with him, and help from a family-centre worker.

"Reading the case notes of such a child," says Carol Hayden, "one cannot help but be depressed by the endless seemingly unco-ordinated interventions and assessments made on the child and his family."

Ms Hayden, of Portsmouth University, is the author of the largest-scale study to date of primary exclusions. Her findings - due to be published this spring - confirm that such exclusions are on the increase. In 1991-92, for instance, the figure was about 570. The following year, it had risen to 1,000. Government statistics for 1993-94 show that more than 1,200 primary children were excluded permanently or indefinitely - a tripling in three years. And the figures show no sign of falling.

"It is," she says, "clearly a national disgrace that the kind of 'hands on' practical and highly-trained help demonstrably needed by such children and their schools is not always available in time to prevent them leaving mainstream education, with limited hope of returning successfully."

Exclusion at primary level is potentially even more damaging than at secondary. Children miss out not only on essential literacy and numeracy skills, but also on the development of social skills. "Thus the broader remit of the education service, as a major agent of socialisation of the next generation, is not being fully met for some children." Yet she believes the potential for positive intervention is there, given adequate funding and provision.

Carol Hayden's research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, began in September 1993 and focused on 265 children who were permanently excluded from primary schools in three local education authorities in 1993-94.

Her findings show that: * most excluded children (90 per cent) are boys, with African-Caribbean boys over-represented; * many are poor achievers with low self-esteem and few friends, often new to the school from which they have been excluded, having been in care the previous year; * more than three-quarters of the families are involved with such agencies as social services, child and family guidance, educational welfare and psychiatric services. Common home characteristics include family breakdown and relationship difficulties, including violence and abuse; * many of the children (between 18 and 38 per cent) were statemented, almost always for emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBD); * most schools believed they did not receive adequate support from the LEAs or other agencies with the most severe cases; * schools do not resort to permanent exclusion easily.

Many primary schools do their best to contain difficult children. But containment is not always the answer. Nor is there always the space to accommodate them. One solution is for a group of schools to provide a joint pastoral room.

"If we want them to be in mainstream schools, maybe we should have a cooling-off facility or a safe haven. And if a child does a runner all the time, why not work out where they run to and deal with them there? It may be the caretaker's house or the school office. It will make life safer," says Carol Hayden.

Time is also a problem. There are no free periods, special educational needs co-ordinators tend to teach as well, and many of the children Hayden and her team saw had psychotherapy three days a week for an hour at a time, which meant three afternoons of missed school. After-school therapy is obviously preferable. In Portsmouth, there are drop-in sessions for parents one afternoon a week towards the end of the school day. "It really helps. And heads are relieved to have something to offer people."

A particularly difficult period in the school day is lunch time, where there can often be a ratio of 50 children to one supervisor, "one of the least trained, most badly paid adults doing the most difficult job of the day". She would like to see better training and a more constructive use of this time for social interaction.

Where outside agencies are concerned, schools tend to employ different strategies - a psychiatric social work service in one, schools counsellors in another, in-school support social workers or social services-based education support services. Others deal with charitable organisations like Cities in Schools (UK), Schools Outreach, Mentors in Schools and The Place To Be. Carol Hayden would like to see a more integrated approach.

If the school is forced into exclusion, outside support services can be slow in acting. Children often have to wait months for home tuition (usually one to two hours a day compared to the standard 25-hour school week), and as long as a year for a special school place. Exclusion also adds to problems at home and in the community. "If a child is excluded one day, there should be somewhere for them to go the next," she says.

Schools particularly need support from other agencies in working with parents - and parents in working with their children. Many like the idea of a home-school worker. And there is, says Carol Hayden, an "obvious" need for complementary home-school behaviour management strategies, such as Jenny Mosley's Circle Time, where pupils and adults - or children and parents - sit and talk in a circle as equals.

There is also, she says, a need to recognise that young children suffer from stress, perhaps even mental health problems. "Many of the children who get excluded at primary level are distressed rather than naughty. If they're naughty, it's a discipline problem for the school. If they're distressed, support structures for the child and school are indicated - the antithesis of exclusion."

First, she says, teachers need to see EBD as a special educational need rather than as a family issue. Second, they must recognise the need for professional counsellors and psychotherapists - not just as outside agencies, but in school as well.

"We must find a way to harness all the resources available to integrate young children more effectively with their peers in the education system, in order to give them the best opportunity to take part as citizens of the future.

"As a society we must not 'get used' to the current situation, where a small minority of young children are being left outside the school education system for months, very occasionally for years. Basic school education should be the fundamental right of all future citizens; and, furthermore, the consequences of not doing so make the kind of society we are creating for the next generation a worse place for us all."


(Autumn l990-Autumn 1994):

Year All exclusions Primary only

1990-91 2,910 378

1991-2 3,833 537

1992-3 8,636 1,215

1993-4 11,181 (11,013) 1,297 (1,253)

Autumn 1994 4,788 584

(Sources: highlighted figures are estimates from the University of Portsmouth research; 1990-91 and 1991-92 are DFE (1992); 1993-94 and autumn 1994 are Parsons et al, 1995)

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