Two of Ed Balls' favourite educational "tsars" have joined forces to demand urgent action from ministers to stop headteachers excluding large numbers of children with severe learning difficulties.
Brian Lamb and Sir Alan Steer, advisers who were both tasked with leading major reviews this year by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, are now working together to convince the Government to take a lead on the issue.
New DCSF strategies to tackle rowdy pupils and legal guidance on behaviour and attendance partnerships are due soon, and both men want ministers to include the "disproportionate" levels of exclusions among special educational needs (SEN) pupils in this work. They are almost eight times more likely than their peers to be expelled.
Mr Lamb's report on parental confidence in the special educational needs system is due to be published next month. Sir Alan launched his report at Easter and is completing further recommendations on behaviour and attendance partnerships.
"Alan and I are both clear about the importance of early intervention and of identifying the learning difficulties that often underlie behaviour difficulties," Mr Lamb said in a letter to Mr Balls.
"Alan's February report, in particular, emphasised the SEN and disability issues that can get tangled with disciplinary systems in schools and, ultimately, exclusions from school. I am also very conscious of the latest figures from the department showing that pupils with SEN are eight times as likely as their peers to be excluded.
"It is my view that this needs to be addressed urgently and we should ensure that these issues are integrated with the department's overall approach to behaviour issues."
Mr Balls has agreed to include this guidance in the future publications. He has also said he wants to trial easier ways of assessing SEN and admits many children with specific learning difficulties or those with profound or multiple problems are not given the right support because of a lack of expertise among teachers.
Currently, two-thirds of the 20 per cent of children not getting to the right standard in English have SEN.
"Parents have told me that they want the assessment process to be clearer and more transparent, and that is why I have decided to ask local authorities to test out their assessment processes further," Mr Balls said.
"I am keen that we look at greater communication between local authorities and parents on how we can make the process less stressful and whether an assessment process which is more independent can improve parental confidence.
"It is important that we continue to support schools working with children with the most complex needs, and that we have sufficient staff using the most effective teaching strategies."
- About 72 per cent of all pupils excluded have SEN.
- Pupils with SEN (both with and without statements) are more than eight times more likely to be permanently excluded than those pupils with no SEN. In 200708, 33 in every 10,000 pupils with statements of SEN, and 38 in every 10,000 pupils with SEN without statements were permanently excluded from school. This compares with four in every 10,000 pupils with no SEN.
- Rates of exclusion in special schools have fallen in the past 10 years. In 1997 there were 570, a rate of 5 per cent; in 2007 this had fallen to 170, or 2 per cent.
- In the 200708 academic year there were 43,290 fixed-period exclusions from primary schools, a decrease of 5.3 per cent, and 16,350 fixed-period exclusions from special schools, a decrease of 1.5 per cent.