Forgotten children – a scandal?
It’s not every day that you hear the words “fraud” and “scandal” to describe the education system in England. Especially in respect of alternative provision for our children with SEND. But that’s exactly what happened in a piece on BBC Breakfast last week. Which obviously pricked up our ears! And sent us off to check out in more detail what they were talking about.
The report “Forgotten Children: alternative provision and the scandal of ever increasing exclusions” was the catalyst for the conversation. And it makes for interesting reading.
I would point out that this is a very wordy report and we’ve pulled out the salient points. But Government departments aren’t renowned for keeping things simple. Grab a brew…you might need it!
The startling statistics
Although this document is a heavy read, it contains a large number of quite startling statistics. These clearly show that the SEND education sector is in crisis.
- Between 2006/7 and 2012/13, the number of permanent exclusions reduced by nearly half, but has since risen, with a 40% increase over the past three years.
- 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.
- Boys are more likely to be permanently excluded than girls; for every girl permanently excluded last year, over three boys were permanently excluded.
- 47% of children in AP are 15 to 16 years old. 25% of exclusions happen when children are aged 14, and half of all exclusions happen in Year 9 or above.
- 87,000 instances of a child leaving a state-funded school during the five years of secondary school.
- 67,000 moves were to another placement in the state sector…FFT Education Datalab found that 19,975 pupils left a mainstream secondary school and were never recorded as being on a state-funded secondary school’s roll again.
- The demand for places … is greater than the sector can provide, with many alternative provision schools oversubscribed.
- In 2015/16, there were 2,990 permanent exclusions and 148,665 fixed term exclusions of pupils with special educational needs.
- In January 2017, 186,793 pupils in state funded mainstream or special schools had social, emotional and mental health as their primary category of SEN.
- IPPR estimates this to be one in 50 children in the general population, and one in two pupils in alternative provision.
- 82% of teachers in all AP providers have qualified teacher status (QTS).
- 95% of teachers in mainstream schools have QTS.
- Vacancies are 100–150% higher than in mainstream secondary schools.
- A child educated in a special or AP schools is twice as likely as a mainstream pupil to be taught by a supply teacher.
- 94% of Year 11 pupils from a mainstream or special school go on to a sustained education or employment or training destination,202 compared to 57% from alternative provision.
Other areas of concern
- Alternative provision is too often seen as a forgotten part of the education system, side-lined and stigmatised as somewhere only the very worst behaved pupils go.
- We have also seen an alarming increase in ‘hidden’ exclusions. The school environment means that schools are struggling to support pupils in their schools, which is then putting pressure on alternative providers. Pupils, parents and schools can end up in conflict, putting further pressure onto a system that should be supporting all pupils to achieve.
- In order to access it children have to be branded a failure or excluded in the first place, rather than it being a positive choice.
- The lack of information and rights for pupils facing exclusion and their parents is an obstacle to social justice and the educational ladder of opportunity.
- The quality of alternative provision is far too variable, with some outstanding provision in places and in others far too poor.
- Even the best teachers may be lacking in suitable training and development, which impacts on the support that children receive.
- We have found as part of our inquiry that there is a concerning increase in the number of pupils who are being encouraged improperly or without the necessary support to be educated at home who should be educated and supported in the school system.
- In 2012 Charlie Taylor released his report for the Government into alternative provision, which was followed a year later by new statutory guidance. The 2016 Government White Paper Educational Excellence Everywhere set out several potential proposals for the AP sector. However, many proposals in the White Paper were not taken forward, further pushing alternative provision to the periphery of education policy.
- (We have heard) worrying evidence that some schools may be deliberately failing to identify a child as having SEND…that excluding pupils can save schools thousands of pounds…(and)that schools could be deliberately not identifying pupils as having SEND, as it is more difficult to permanently exclude a pupil with SEND. We also heard that schools are justifying permanent exclusions of pupils with SEND, by claiming that they will get the support that they need in alternative provision, and exclusion will speed up the assessment process. This then leads to pupils with SEND being left for long periods of time in alternative provision while the assessment takes place, which does not mean that a child’s needs are being met.
Impact of behaviours
- Factors in children’s lives outside of school affect their behaviour and ability to cope with school, and schools and wider support services struggle to support them.
- there is an increase in zero-tolerance behaviour policies, contributing to the rise in exclusions and increase in pupils attending alternative provision.
- pupils are punished and ultimately excluded for incidents that could and should be managed within the mainstream school environment.
- Exclusion can also affect a pupil’s mental health.
- The exclusions process is weighted in favour of schools and often leaves parents and pupils navigating an adversarial system that should be supporting them.
Conclusions and recommendations
What’s going wrong in mainstream schools?
- The Timpson Exclusions Review should ensure that it looks at the trends in exclusion by school type, location and pupil demographics. (Paragraph 18)
- 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. (Paragraph 20)
- The evidence we have seen suggests that the rise in so called ‘zero-tolerance’ behaviour policies is creating school environments where pupils are punished and ultimately excluded for incidents that could and should be managed within the mainstream school environment. (Paragraph 25)
The role of Ofsted
- The Government should issue guidance to all schools reminding them of their responsibilities to children under treaty obligations and ensure that their behaviour policies are in line with these responsibilities. (Paragraph 26)
- The Government and Ofsted should introduce an inclusion measure or criteria that sits within schools to incentivise schools to be more inclusive. (Paragraph 27)
- We do not think that Ofsted should take sole responsibility for tackling off-rolling. Off-rolling is in part driven by school policies created by the Department for Education. The Department cannot wash its hands of the issue, just as schools cannot wash their hands of their pupils. (Paragraph 34)
- 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. (Paragraph 36)
- We recommend that the Government should change the weighting of Progress 8 and other accountability measures to take account of every pupil who had spent time at a school, in proportion to the amount of time they spent there..(and) reform…Progress 8 measures to take account of outliers and to incentivise inclusivity. (Paragraph 37)
The process of exclusion and referral
- The exclusions process is weighted in favour of schools and often leaves parents and pupils navigating an adversarial system that should be supporting them. (Paragraph 44)
- Legislation should be amended at the next opportunity so that where Independent Review Panels find in favour of the pupils, IRPs can direct a school to reinstate a pupil. (Paragraph 45)
- Where responsibility sits for excluded children in a local area has become very ambiguous. The Timpson Exclusions Review needs to clarify whose responsibility it is to ensure that excluded or off-rolled pupils are being properly educated. This could be the local authority or it could be local school partnerships, but at the moment too many pupils are falling through the net. (Paragraph 46)
- a pupil is excluded from school for more than five non-consecutive days in a school year…should be given access to an independent advocate. This should happen both where pupils are internally or externally excluded from school, or where the LA is arranging education due to illness. (Paragraph 47)
- The Government should encourage the creation of more specialist alternative providers that are able to meet the diverse needs of pupils with medical needs, including mental health needs. (Paragraph 53)
- There is an inexplicable lack of central accountability and direction. No one appears to be aware of all the provision that is available, which impacts on both schools, local authorities and parents. Unless all providers are required to notify the local authority of their presence, not all schools or LAs will be able to make informed decisions about placements. Without someone to take responsibility for co-ordinating and publishing information about the local provision that is available, parents and pupils will remain unable to fully participate in discussions about alternative provisions referrals. (Paragraph 56)
Oversight and terminology
- All organisations offering alternative provision should … inform the local authority…of their provision. The local authority should then make the list…available to schools and parents on their website. (Paragraph 57)
- Pupil Referral Units…should be renamed to remove the stigma and stop parents being reluctant to send their pupils there. We suggest that the Government seeks the advice of pupils who currently attend alternative provision when developing this new terminology. Many have described AP as specialist provision, offering children a more tailored, more personal education that is more suited to their needs. (Paragraph 58)
- Local authorities have statutory responsibilities to provide suitable education for pupils and yet can have little oversight or scrutiny over decisions about exclusions and placement decisions. This may be due to inadequate resourcing, which needs to be addressed. We are also concerned by the lack of transparency about exclusion rates that are available to parents about schools. (Paragraph 62)
- … LAs (should have) appropriate powers to ensure that any child receive the education they need, regardless of school type. (Paragraph 63)
- Schools should publish their permanent and fixed term exclusion rates by year group every term, including providing information about pupils with SEND and looked-after children. Schools should also publish data on the number of pupils who have left the school. (Paragraph 64)
- Schools do not always have the capacity and specialist knowledge to have full responsibility for the commissioning of long-term placements for pupils who will often have complex needs. A fragmented approach to commissioning responsibilities and a lack of oversight and scrutiny around decisions…(leaves) pupils…vulnerable to inappropriate placement decisions. (Paragraph 66)
Fair Access Protocols
- The best Fair Access Protocols work well because they are local and understand the needs of their communities. (Paragraph 71)
- Government should issue clearer guidance on Fair Access Protocols to ensure that schools understand and adhere to their responsibilities and encourage reintegration where appropriate. No school should be able to opt-out and if necessary either the local authority or the DfE should have the power to direct a school to adhere to their local Fair Access Protocol. (Paragraph 72)
- There should be greater oversight of exclusions and the commissioning of alternative provision for all pupils by the local authority. These children need a champion, and schools need both challenge and support. (Paragraph 76)
- There should be a senior person in each local authority… responsible for protecting the interests and promoting the educational achievement of pupils in alternative provision. This role and post-holder should be different from that of the Virtual School Head for Looked-After Children. (Paragraph 77)
What does good alternative provision look like?
- Government should collect best practice and provide dedicated resources and guidance to schools to improve behaviour and reduce exclusion and develop appropriately resourced Learning Support Units. This guidance should include that all LSUs are staffed by at least one qualified teacher. The Government should also investigate the practice of placing students in isolation units. (Paragraph 87)
- Ofsted should carry out thematic inspections of in-school alternative provision. (Paragraph 88)
- All trainee teachers, in order to achieve Qualified Teacher Status, should be required to undertake a placement outside of mainstream education, for example in a special school or in alternative provision. (Paragraph 96)
Checks and balances
- … there are (in)sufficient checks on unregistered providers… without sufficient oversight, their education and safety is put at risk.(Paragraph 109)
- No pupil should be educated in unregistered provision for more than two days a week. Schools that commission any alternative provision should be responsible for the quality of that provision. (Paragraph 110)
Mainstream and alternative together
- Mainstream schools should be more proactive in their engagement with alternative provision. All mainstream schools should be ‘buddied’ with an alternative provision school to share expertise and offer alternative provision teachers and pupils opportunities to access teaching and learning opportunities. (Paragraph 113)
Successful outcomes and destinations
- This framework should take into account the fragmented educational journey that these pupils will have had, and enable schools to demonstrate all the achievements of their pupils. We urge the Government to ensure that it uses the very broadest of measures, including softer skills that pupils have developed as well as harder outcomes like apprenticeship take up. (Paragraph 119)
- It is extraordinary that the increase in the participation age was not accompanied by statutory duties to provide post-16 alternative provision. Pupils neither stop being ill at 16, nor do they stop being in need of additional support that would enable them to access education….the system is not designed or funded to accommodate their additional needs. There is a clear will in the sector to provide post-16 education to pupils in alternative provision, and a clear need on the part of pupils. (Paragraph 123)
- the Government must allocate resources to ensure that local authorities and providers can provide post-16 support (Paragraph 124)
So, what do we think?
As parents of children with SEND, we’re familiar with the challenges our children face. They shouldn’t have to fight to secure an appropriate education in a supportive setting. A setting that enables them to learn and helps them to flourish.
Evie’s children attend a school that goes the extra mile to support the whole family. Despite some really challenging behaviour over the years they haven’t ever considered excluding her children.
Pip’s experience was entirely different. Her child attended a school in the same postcode. She’ll be discussing some of her experiences in an upcoming blog post.
So we welcome anything that the Government is going to do to support children with SEND and their families. We want them to ensure they have a good educational experience. That it is appropriate to their needs and abilities. And that it helps them secure their best outcome …whatever that might be.
However, what infuriates us the most is:
a) the inconsistency of provision across even one education authority, never-mind the whole country.
b) that consecutive governments have systematically and wilfully neglected to address the challenges our children face. That they have left them on the sidelines of education and set them up to fail.
c) the language used in the conclusions is very soft indeed. Lots of ‘could’ and ‘should’ rather than concrete actions, deadlines and clear allocation of funding.
Our question for the Government
We have a question for the Government. Not just the current incumbents, but their predecessors, and, I suspect, their successors. When will you stop systematically failing a whole generation of children? Whether this failure is in the care system or the education system. When will you provide funding, training and legislation to protect some of the most vulnerable members of our society?
When will the Government also see that we need the investment now. Investment will help to bring an end to this vicious spiral of abuse and neglect. It will help to reduce the number of traumatised and damaged children.
What do you think? And what do you think we, as parents and caregivers, can do to effect change for our children?
All quotes herein are the copyright of The House of Commons Education Committee. Taken from their Fifth Report of Session 2017–19, Forgotten children: alternative provision and the scandal of ever increasing exclusions.
Please refer to the original document for all sources and details of witnesses.