Government guidance on managing pupil behaviour yet to be updated

5 Jan

About a year ago, the government withdrew the updated guidance to schools on the management of pupil behaviour. Despite pressure being brought to bear on civil servants, the guidance has yet to be reissued.

Lawyers defending pupils appealing against permanent exclusion argued that more children would be expelled under the revised guidance and threatened legal action against Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State, on the grounds that the changes had been introduced without consultation.

Under the guidance of 2012, which is still extant, headteachers could exclude children only as a last resort.  It states that a headteacher can exclude a child permanently only if allowing her/him to remain at school would seriously harm the education or welfare of others.  The now withdrawn guidance lowered the threshold from “seriously harmful” to “detrimental”.

The most recent exclusion statistics available are for 2013/14.  They reveal that the rate of permanent exclusions remained at six per 10,000 pupils.   The long-term trend showed a decrease in the number and rate of permanent exclusions since 2004/5.  However, the number of permanent exclusions increased marginally from 2012/13 to 2013/14 from 4,630 to 4,950.  The greatest increase occurred in primary schools where there were 870 permanent exclusions in 2013/14 compared to 670 in 2012/13, albeit the rate remained the same at two per 10,000 pupils.

The rate of permanent exclusions increased in secondary schools from 12 per 10,000 pupils in 2012/13 to 13 per 10,000 in 2013/14.   Altogether, 81% of exclusions occurred in secondary schools – a decrease from 87% in 2019/10.

Persistent disruptive behaviour was the commonest reason for permanent exclusions.  It accounted for 32.7% of all permanent exclusions, up from 30.8% in 2012/13.

Boys were three times more likely to be permanently excluded and almost three times more likely to receive fixed term exclusions than girls.

What was particularly worrying about the government statistics was that pupils with special educational needs and disability (SEND) – with and without statements/Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) – accounted for seven in 10 of all permanent exclusion and six in 10 fixed term exclusions.  Children with special needs and without statements/EHCPs had the highest permanent rate of exclusions and were nine times more likely to be permanently excluded than pupils without special needs.

Several children, previously classified as having special needs, are now more likely to be excluded, because of a change in definition.   “Behavioural, emotional and social difficulties (BESD)” has now morphed into “social, emotional and health” problems.  Accordingly, BESD has the new nomenclature – “disruptive”.

Pupils eligible for free school meals are four times more likely to be excluded permanently or excluded for fixed terms than those not eligible.  This statistic remains unchanged.

Over 60% of pupils permanently excluded are aged from 12 to 14 and 25% over 14.  However, pupils over the age of 14 had the highest rate of fixed-term exclusions and the highest rate of pupils receiving one or more fixed-term exclusions.

Pupils of gypsy/Roma origin and travellers of Irish heritage had the highest rate of exclusions – both, permanent and fixed-term.   The figures, however, are very small and should be treated with caution.   Pupils of Caribbean origin and those of mixed race – i.e. Caribbean and White – were three times more likely to be permanently excluded than the rest of the pupils as a whole.   Youngsters of Asian and Chinese parentage had the lowest rate of exclusion.

Commentary

Tensions flourish for school governors, headteachers and staff to provide a suitable education in a safe environment for all pupils on the one hand and cater to meet the needs of pupils who are disruptive for a host of reasons.   These tensions are exacerbated by the focus on examination results and league tables in a milieu of shrinking resources.

Additionally, there have been cuts in family benefits of all kinds, resulting in shifting populations.   Those on income support are moving from the more expensive conurbations of the country to outlying areas impacting negatively on the mental health of family members – including children.   Because schools are limited in regard to where they can find help and the wherewithal to purchase it when they succeed, they resort to more punitive measures and turf out the more challenging children.   The long-suffering ones limit the punishments to a ban on school trips and playtimes.

It is futile for the government to state that it has protected budgets when funding for education generally – especially for local authorities – has shrunk so substantially, making it difficult, if not impossible for schools to know where to turn to secure support for pupils who desperately need it. Children most in need of being educated and emotionally supported are being denied it – impairing the provision to which they are entitled.  They, in turn, then undermine educational provision for the rank and file of other youngsters.

We are piling up social problems for the future. Many pupils excluded from school come from troubled backgrounds that land them in care or leave them in dysfunctional families.

The Ministry of Justice commissioned research – which was published in March 2012 – into the backgrounds of prisoners. The results make compelling reading.

(i)         Twenty-four per cent stated that they had been in care at some point during their childhood. Those who had been in care were younger when they were first arrested, and were more likely to be reconvicted in the year after release from custody than those who had never been in care.

(ii)        Many prisoners had experienced abuse (29%) or observed violence in the home (41%) as children – particularly those who stated that they had a family member with an alcohol or drug problem. Those who reported experiencing abuse or observing violence as children were more likely to be reconvicted in the year after release than those who did not.

(iii)       Thirty-seven per cent of prisoners reported having family members who had been convicted of a non-motoring criminal offence, of whom 84% had been in prison, young offenders’ institutions or borstals. A prisoner with a convicted family member was more likely to be reconvicted in the year after release from custody than someone without a convicted family member.

(iv)       Eighteen per cent of prisoners stated that they had family members with an alcohol problem, and 14% with a drug problem.

(v)        Fifty-nine per cent of prisoners stated that they had regularly played truant from school, 63% had been suspended or temporarily excluded, and 42% stated that they had been permanently excluded or expelled. Prisoners with these issues were more likely to be reconvicted on release than those without.

Findings on school exclusion and truancy indicate that interventions at, around, or before the point of exclusion could have a positive effect on these young people’s lives, reducing their likelihood of future offending and/or reoffending.

That schools will be given the financial tools to do the job of building a better society for the future is not going to be anytime soon.

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