ACCESS to education is one of the pillars of a civilised society. Yet a growing number of our children are being denied this basic right.
Far too many pupils, often from disadvantaged or troubled backgrounds, are being excluded from schools, often on dubious grounds.
In some of the most disgraceful cases, children in difficulties have been removed simply to improve a school’s exam results, a practice known as “off-rolling”.
Off-rolling is removing a pupil from the school roll without using a permanent exclusion, when the removal is primarily in the best interests of the school, rather than the pupil.
This includes pressuring a parent to remove their child from the school roll.
As the Chair of the Select Committee on Education in the House of Commons I am appalled at the findings.
The rush to exclude is one of the greatest social injustices of our times.
It is our modern age’s equivalent of the Victorian workhouse. If left unchecked, this trend will create generations of forgotten children — and our society will pay a savage price for that cruelty.
I believe passionately in equality of opportunity, but the increasingly harsh approach on exclusions is badly undermining that ideal.
This should not be happening in an affluent society with the seventh largest economy in the world, where education is meant to be cherished as a vehicle for enhancing life chances.
The statistics are shocking. Every day there are 40 children permanently excluded. Such exclusions have soared by 56 per cent in just three years, up from 4,950 in 2013/14 to 7,720 in 2016/17. What particularly disturbs me is that vulnerable children are usually the target.
No fewer than 78 per cent of permanent exclusions are issued to those with special educational needs, with 4,000 special needs students being excluded every week. And behind all those figures lie individual tales of wasted talents, exposure to crime and the slide towards deprivation.
I am not heaping all the blame on schools. I understand why they sometimes feel, in certain circumstances, that they have to exclude badly behaved students. But exclusions should be a last resort, not a routine manoeuvre.
At present there is no consistency in how they are applied. A Wild West system operates, riddled with unfairness and arbitrary judgments.
In some schools there are loads of exclusions, in others barely any. One woman’s son was excluded for fighting after being bullied online.
Even though he was a bullying victim, he was left without a proper education.
Shock school exclusion numbers
2,000 students excluded from school every day on average
40 kids permanently excluded every day
78% of permanent exclusions are issued to children with special education needs (SEN)
1% of excluded children get five good GCSEs they need to succeed
74% of children in pupil referral units (PRUs) are persistently absent
40% of kids are not in education, employment or training when they leave PRUs at 16
71% of children in PRUs are white British
63% of prisoners were suspended or temporarily excluded as kids
85% of children in young offender institutions have been excluded
£2.1billion… how much experts say every year group of permanently excluded pupils will additionally cost the state in education, health, benefits and criminal justice costs
THAT’LL TEACH US
The unfairness is at its worst when schools indulge in off-rolling just to boost their exam results and move up the league tables.
A fifth of teachers have witnessed off-rolling. One North London teacher put it: “I know of schools that have off-rolled students for exclusion because it would be better for their grades.”
That makes a mockery of the state education system, which should respect the needs of all its pupils.
Schools cannot just be about the survival of the fittest.
The current exclusions policy is social self-destruction.
We are storing up a human tragedy on an epic scale, not least because continuing education through Alternative Provision (AP) for excluded pupils is so inadequate and under-funded.
What teachers say are reasons for rise in off-rolling:
- “I strongly suspect some schools are saying, ‘your child is underachieving, their behaviour record is bad… you can either fill in this transfer form, or we will go through a permanent exclusion process and they will end up having to attend a PRU school with young criminals’.” – Deputy head at a secondary grammar school.
- “External pressures the school is under, the emphasis on data… offrolling is a better solution to exclusions… it can be done without having exclusion on the record, and without months of additional paperwork.” – Headteacher at a primary school.
- “Students with challenging behaviours and obviously weaker students are a target and are more likely to be off-rolled.” – Department head at a secondary academy
KICKED OUT OF SCHOOL
There are some good AP schools, with incredible, dedicated teachers, but simply not enough of them.
Moreover, the AP schools are often not in the places of most exclusions, so getting a place can be a postcode lottery.
Also, students in AP are far less likely to get good exam results, find well-paid jobs or go into further education. Only around one per cent of them will receive five good GCSEs.
The consequences of this folly are enormous. It is estimated that every year-group of permanently excluded pupils costs us £2.1billion more in additional burdens on education, health, welfare benefits and criminal justice.
Just as worryingly, children who aren’t in mainstream education face being caught up in violence and offending.
Those who commit knife crime are the same kind of people who are likely to be excluded — and that is also true of gangs.
Around 85 per cent of children in young offender institutions have been excluded, while 63 per cent of prisoners were suspended or excluded as kids.
We cannot go on like this. So what can be done to reverse the tide?
There has been a recent review of exclusions by the former minister Edward Timpson. Among his proposals were a clampdown on off-rolling, more early intervention for troubled students and for schools to be more accountable for exclusions.
And we need further radical action.
Schools should be compelled to publish the number of excluded pupils on their websites every term, which would make such removals less likely. And Ofsted should have the powers to carry out tougher inspections to prevent off-rolling. I would welcome more police in schools to mentor pupils about knife crime and gangs.
The rush to exclude is one of the greatest social injustices of our times
As Carlie Thomas, from the St Giles Trust charity, puts it: “There are tell-tale signs before they have got to the point of carrying a knife or being excluded.”
Above all, standards of Alternative Provision need to be dramatically improved. We need more units, funding and places, as well as better training for teachers.
Ideally, all teachers should have to undergo some training in AP schools, so they have a deeper understanding of the impact of exclusions.
MOST READ IN OPINION
Some will argue that the real responsibility lies not with Government, but with parents. And it is true that families who are not bothered about their children’s education or behaviour are a tremendous social problem.
But because these students are from troubled backgrounds makes our duty to them all the greater. We cannot just dump them on the scrapheap.
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