THE increase in “hidden exclusions” in schools is a national scandal, the education select committee has concluded, in a report that points to a lack of “moral accountability” in schools.
The report, Forgotten children: alternative provision and the scandal of ever increasing exclusions, published last month, says that, in many instances, children in alternative provision — a category of education facilities which includes pupil referral units — have been “failed by the mainstream school system”.
It concludes that: “an unfortunate and unintended consequence of the Government’s strong focus on school standards has led to school environments and practices that have resulted in disadvantaged children being disproportionately excluded, which includes a curriculum with a lack of focus on developing pupils’ social and economic capital.
“There appears to be a lack of moral accountability on the part of many schools and no incentive to, or deterrent to not, retain pupils who could be classed as difficult or challenging.”
Between 2007 and 2013, the number of permanent exclusions fell by nearly half, but it has since risen, by 40 per cent over the past three years to more than 6500. Pupils with special educational needs are almost seven times more likely to be permanently excluded than their peers. Boys are three times more likely than girls, and pupils of Black Caribbean, Irish-traveller, and Gypsy Roma heritage are disproportionately represented.
Robert Halfon, who chairs the commitee, said that the country was facing a “scandal of ever-increasing numbers of children being excluded and being left abandoned to a forgotten part of our education system which too often fails to deliver good outcomes”.
Teachers and other witnesses to the inquiry spoke of challenges that include a lack of expertise, a lack of funding for pastoral support, and an increase both in pupils with mental-health problems and in zero-tolerance behaviour policies.
On Monday, a spokeswoman for TLG, a Christian charity that began as a small school for excluded young people in Bradford and now runs 13 church-based education centres across England, said that exclusion was “a consequence of the struggles that many children and young people across the UK are dealing with”.
She said: “More often than not, young people at risk of exclusion will typically come from chaotic home situations where even their basic needs are not met. Most days, hundreds of young people will walk into a TLG Centre without having had breakfast or a decent meal the night before, and often without adequate clothing or resources. . .
“Although there are cases of young people being ‘managed out’ of schools, the majority of problems we tackle on a daily basis are not rooted in the education system, but they are rooted in problems at home — whatever reason that may be.”
Ruling. This week, a judge ruled in favour of a 13-year-old boy with autism, who was excluded in 2016 for aggressive behaviour. Judge Alison Rowley concluded that the exclusion, permitted under the Equality Act, was incompatible with human-rights legislation. It was, she said, “repugnant to define as ‘criminal’ or ‘anti-social’ the effect of the behaviour of children whose condition manifests itself in particular ways so as to justify treating them differently from children whose condition has other manifestations”.
Read our feature this week on autism and the Church