The Education Select Committee has published a critical report on its inquiry into alternative provision and exclusions which raises concerns that government accountability policies have provided “no incentive to, or deterrent to not, retain pupils who could be classed as difficult or challenging” and that there appears to be a “lack of moral accountability on the part of many schools”.
The report examines the rise in exclusions in mainstream schools which have increased by 40% in the past three years. It finds that in 2015/16 “6,685 pupils were permanently excluded from school and there were 339,360 fixed period exclusions”. Some children and young people are more likely to be excluded than their peers with looked-after children, those living in poverty and some ethnic minorities disproportionately represented. Furthermore, pupils receiving SEN support are “almost seven times more likely to be permanently excluded than pupils with no SEN”.
The cross-group of MPs recommend a series of measures to act as a 'Bill of Rights' for pupils and their parents to fill the existing gap in information for pupils who are excluded from mainstream schools. The report finds that the current exclusions process is “weighted in favour of schools” and often leaves parents and pupils “navigating an adversarial system that should be supporting them”. The report is highly critical of the practice of “off-rolling” where pupils are removed from the school’s register by moving them to alternative provision, home education or other schools and calls on the government to reform its accountability measures to incentivise inclusivity. Witnesses to the inquiry also said that financial pressure is affecting schools’ capacity to identify problems and provide early intervention support such as pastoral care or teaching assistants which can often help to keep pupils in mainstream schools.
The report recommends that the government focuses on improving scrutiny and oversight of alternative provision in its upcoming review of exclusions by former children’s minister Edward Timpson, as fragmentation in the schools landscape has led to the responsibility for excluded children in a local area to become “very ambiguous” and lacking in oversight, with some local authorities unaware of the provision in their area.
Commenting on the findings of the report, Gillian Allcroft, deputy chief executive at the National Governance Association said “Governing boards are responsible for setting the ethos and culture of the school and while the headteacher is solely responsible for whether a pupil is excluded, the culture behind that exclusion is a board issue. Governing boards should be keeping a close eye on how many pupils are excluded and if it is going up ask why and what additional support do staff need to prevent it. Illegal exclusions like off-rolling are precisely that and should not be tolerated. Finally, exclusion has a serious impact on the lives of those excluded and as long as governing boards have a legal responsibility to review them they need to ensure they do so in a professional manner. This is not a rubber-stamping exercise, exclusion panels need to be properly trained and ensure a review is thorough.”