A report by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Dr Maggie Atkinson, whose role it is to champion children and young people, has revealed that while most schools work hard to cater for troubled students, for the first time some schools have admitted illegally excluding children.
The report, ‘They Never Give Up On You’, found good practice in many parts of England – as well as areas for concern and improvement.
“For the first time schools are on record saying they had illegally excluded pupils,” said Dr Atkinson. “Due to the informal nature of such exclusions it is difficult to know how widespread this practice is but it is worth further examination. Our Inquiry, which took evidence from a wide range of education partners and young people, found both good practice and serious causes for concern.”
The report says it found clear evidence of illegal exclusions, ranging from Year 11 students apparently being sent home at Christmas and told not to come back until their exams in June, to ‘informal’ exclusions when someone is told verbally, with no correspondence with parents, to go home for a few days, or not to come back before the school has interviewed their parents.
The commissioner says this informal ‘sending home’, not recorded and done ‘by the back door’, is illegal.
Factors making exclusion more likely
The commissioner says government statistics about exclusions show that four key factors in a child’s life make it more likely they will be excluded:
- their gender;
- having special educational needs (SEN);
- their ethnicity;
- and when they live in poverty.
When all four factors are combined, these figures show that a black boy from an African Caribbean background, who has SEN and is also from a low income household, is 168 times more likely to be permanently excluded from the same school than a white female classmate, who does not have SEN and comes from a more affluent household.
The commissioner has suggested parents and pupils should be able to appeal against unfair exclusions, and that the Department for Education should issue clear guidance for the exclusion thresholds that schools use to decide what to do when dealing with a child at risk of exclusion.
“Although overall exclusion rates have fallen for several years, and it’s clear schools are working hard to keep children in learning so they can achieve what they should, certain groups, such as students with special educational needs and from some ethnic groups, continue to be over represented. This cannot be right. We need to act to address the issue.”
Cuts hitting vulnerable
Speaking for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), Alison Ryan said that the union was worried that cuts in local authority funding are hitting many of the services on which vulnerable or troubled families rely to support any of their children with emotional or mental health problems.
Ms Ryan also said that the ATL totally agreed with the commissioner, that the government and Ofsted need to look at the consequences of school league tables, and constant testing and inspections, which she said may encourage a minority of schools down the route of informal exclusions.
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