By Deborah Lawson, General Secretary, Voice
In its latest report, Forgotten children: alternative provision and the scandal of ever increasing exclusions, the Commons Education Committee rightly expresses concerns about “the over-exclusion of pupils and at the 'alarming' increase in 'hidden exclusions' where children are internally isolated, or informally excluded”:
“Many already face a host of challenges, with children in care, children in need, children with SEND, and children in poverty, being far more likely to end up in alternative provision (AP). They deserve the best possible support but often they don’t get the education that they need to thrive.”
The report also highlights concerns about schools removing pupils to boost their position in league tables.
The tone of the publicity for the report, and the media coverage of it, is critical of schools. Clearly bad practice is not acceptable, and “schools should be inclusive”. Unfortunately, an unintended consequence of the Government’s accountability regime – based on success in exams in a narrow range of academic subjects – and society’s league table mentality is that schools are under enormous pressure to improve their performance. This can foster a culture (including ‘hidden exclusions’) that is not healthy, and contrary to what schools are about and what they all really want to do – be inclusive and provide the best possible, rounded education for all children.
A lack of early intervention and support
One key section of the report that should have been given headline prominence is on the “lack of early intervention and support”:
19. "Witnesses to the inquiry described many challenges facing schools which might contribute to their inability or unwillingness to identify problems and then provide support. These include a lack of expertise in schools that would allow them to identify problems. Schools and school representatives told us that schools no longer have the financial resources to fund pastoral support, including teaching assistants, that would often help keep pupils in mainstream schools. This raises the possibility that financial pressures are affecting schools’ capacity and ability to identify and support problems and provide the early intervention that is necessary.”
20.”The Timpson Exclusions Review should examine whether financial pressures and accountability measures in schools are preventing schools from providing early intervention support and contributing to the exclusion crisis."
As the report points out:
“According to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), some groups of children are more likely to be educated in alternative provision, or excluded, than other children. Children in care, children in need, children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and children in poverty are all more likely to be excluded than their peers. Pupils with SEN support are almost seven times more likely to be permanently excluded than pupils with no SEN.”
We know, from the volume of member casework and advice requested and given about redundancy, job evaluation and Single Status, that endless restructuring in schools, driven by austerity measures, and the worrying state of education funding, is resulting in a range of measures which impacts on the continued employment of support staff – who provide invaluable support for children with SEND and behaviour problems. The spectrum ranges from reduction of hours to total loss of posts. If such action is an attempt to balance the books, the loss of such valuable staff members is a false economy. There is no doubt that school leaders and governing bodies are in unenviable situations.
“Such actions may reduce or prevent a deficit, but the loss of valuable staff members is a false economy that will only increase class sizes and teacher workload and, along with a diminished curriculum, reduce access to, and opportunities to provide, learning, and so social mobility.”
This situation is not confined to England (the remit of the Committee) with warnings that "Scotland faces a 'lost generation' of children with additional support needs (ASN) if funding cuts continue”.
No children should be “forgotten”, and “ever increasing exclusions” are a scandal – but so are the lack of resources and support staff, and the culture generated by the accountability regime, that are contributing to those exclusions.
Do let us know your thoughts and experiences…