The interest in exclusions, which we identified last month, has continued. A suspicion has been growing that ‘some (nameless)schools’ have been following the management principle ‘if you can’t change the people; you must change the people’ in order to improve results: either by excluding difficult pupils permanently; easing them out; or discouraging them from applying to the school in the first place by threatening strong discipline. Concern is now leading to investigation.
The immediate action is that Damian Hinds has asked a former children's minister, Edward Timpson, to lead a review into school exclusions (Evidence to be submitted by 6 May). In doing so, Hinds has reiterated that exclusion should be a ‘last resort.’
It is clear that exclusions have increased. There were 6,685 permanent exclusions in 2015-16, up from 5,785 the previous year with a similar increase in fixed term exclusions.
Timpson has stated that he is interested in ‘the drivers behind exclusion’ and in examining current practice to establish how schools and supporting agencies work together in relation to exclusion and whether (or not) it is effective in improving outcomes for children. He has also issued an open call for evidence from parents and children about their own experiences of exclusion: ‘to fully understand the consequences of what may end up being a life-changing decision.’
One major issue is the persistent fact that for some groups of children: including black Caribbean and Gypsy Roma and Traveller children, those with special educational needs, pupils eligible for free school meals, children in need and those in care; the rates of exclusion are higher. This is particularly peculiar in relation to children of Black Caribbean heritage, since according to a Parliamentary Report in 2014, their academic performance, taken as a group, has now exceeded that of white ‘working class’ children.
Another, is what he describes as the ‘stark variation in exclusion rates between different geographical areas with similar characteristics, but also between schools, often in the same area, with similar intakes.’
One hopes that any study will dig deeper than previously and explore, for instance, the pressures on schools to meet targets which may or may not suit their students and financial pressures which have resulted in large losses of staff.
But at a rather inconvenient time, the ‘Teacher Voice Study by the National Foundation for Educational Research for the DfE discovered that 22% of teachers and school leaders incorrectly believed schools were permitted to ‘encourage parents to withdraw their child and apply to another school, as an alternative to a permanent exclusion.’
If new restrictions are put on exclusions it may be that the profession will have no one to blame but itself.