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Pinball children – putting together the broken fragments of the education system

13 Apr

I       Introduction

The number of children being excluded from schools and academies continues to increase.   Children out of education spiral downwards and are picked up by unsavoury elements who use them as “mules” to transport drugs.  Others join gangs and are sucked into knife crime, sometimes becoming victims.

Tom Sherrington, an educational consultant, author of the Teacherhead.com website and the book, The Learning Rainforest, warned school and academy leaders and governors to ensure that children are not permanently excluded for frivolous reasons and certainly not because their parents are behaving badly. “You can’t permanently exclude a child because of his/her parents.  They are pinball kids struggling with life,” he said. Yet, the number of youngsters (problematic, no doubt), who are vulnerable – broken fragments of our society – continue to be turfed out of institutions for a variety of reasons and not just because they present behavioural difficulties.

The Royal Society of Arts (RSA) and the Betty Messenger Charitable Foundation have been running a project on the Pinball Kids (since the autumn of 2018) to understand better what is driving up the number of exclusions and searching for a panacea to cure this social and educational pandemic.   If you are interested you can contact the RSA at RSA.Pinballkids@rsa.org.uk.

From 2013 to 2018, the number of exclusions rose by 60% in England’s schools and academies.  In the academic year 2017/18, 42 pupils per school/academy were excluded.   Laura Partridge of the RSA in her blog pointed out that “the school system disproportionately excludes pupils with special educational needs, who have grown up in poverty, who have a social worker and from certain ethnic minority groups”. She added: “Children who the system should hold on to are being let go and let down. Being excluded from school has negative consequences for the rest of a child’s life.”

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Timpson Review on Pupil Exclusions: Government determined to curb off-rolling

12 Aug

I           Exclusion Vignette

A few years ago, a group of inspectors on their way to a school which was to be brought under the watchdog’s microscope were grounded a few hundred yards from their destination because their car had broken down.   Three young lads who saw them offered to help.  They fished out the jack, raised the car on it, opened the bonnet, fiddled with the engine and in little time resolved the problem and set the engine running.

The inspectors were grateful, overjoyed and effusive in their thanks.   They asked these young men who they were and what they had been planning to do.

“We are pupils at ……. School. We were heading back to our homes.”

“Why?” asked the inspectors, “especially as it is a working day.”

“Oh,” said the second boy, “we were told to go home by the headteacher because we have been described as disruptive and informed that inspectors would be visiting the school.”

I am not sure what the outcome of that inspection was as it happened some time ago.  However, it is not unknown for schools and academies to engage in such dubious practices today, even though a school/academy will be given under 24 hours’ notice of an inspection.    What is sad is not only that in some cases excluded pupils miss out on learning, but also that they have considerable potential to learn based on the talents they have (as seen from this incident), if only  schools and academies press the right buttons.

II          The Timpson Review

On 7 May 2019, Edward Timpson, former children’s minister, published his review on the exclusions of pupils.  It made 30 recommendations all of which were accepted by the Government.

Timpson’s review included good and bad news. The good news was that 85% of mainstream schools/academies had not expelled any pupils in the academic year 2016/17. The bad news was that in each of 0.2% institutions that had expelled pupils more than 10 pupils had been excluded in that academic year.  Vulnerable pupils were more likely to be excluded. Altogether, 78% of permanent exclusions were of children who had special needs or classified as being eligible for free school meals.

Fewer Bangladeshi and Indian pupils were excluded than White British, Black Caribbean and mixed White and Caribbean ones.

In October 2017, former Prime Minister, Theresa May appointed Edward Timpson to carry out a review on the exclusions of pupils in schools and academies in response to the Race Disparity Audit. Edward Timpson was asked  to lead the review in March 2018.  He set out to explore how schools use exclusion.

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Is the exclusion of pupils adding to knife crime?

18 Apr

I        The school/academy dilemma

Children’s welfare is of paramount importance to schools and academies.   Happiness and safety are the twin conditions required to promote their growth mentally, physically, morally and spiritually – enabling them to develop and flourish during the compulsory stage of their education. They keep them grounded for the rest of their lives.   Were a school/academy to be wanting by Ofsted in its safeguarding arrangements it is peremptorily placed in special measures.  This does not negate the requirement that a school/academy is expected to demonstrate that its pupils are achieving.

Regarding the last requirement, schools and academies are caught between a rock and a hard place. It is imperative that governors, headteachers and staff give children every opportunity to succeed – but at what cost?   In a number of egregious cases schools/academies are “off-rolling” the “problematic children to twinkle in the firmament of academic achievement”.  Funding difficulties heighten the dilemma for them, making it that much more daunting to educate problematic children in the same classrooms as the better-behaved ones, disrupting their education too.

The evidence is stark: in the Autumn Term of Year 11, several “turned off” youngsters are excluded – often permanently – so that they will not bring their schools/academies shame by doing badly in their GCSEs.

And when that happens, there are drug gangs out there ready to capitalise on these “turned off” youngsters who feel education’s “discarded” outsiders, causing their lives to spiral downwards.   To defend themselves and/or prove they are macho (most of them are boys), they resort to knife crime.

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Our responsibility for vulnerable pupils: landmark exclusion cases

18 Apr

I        Duty of care for vulnerable pupils

The ground on which bulls fight suffers the most. Bulls may damage each other, but it is the battleground that is smothered.   This is what happens when it comes to caring for and educating children, especially the vulnerable ones: the bulls are the adults, the ground the children.    We adults often forget that, we have a profound duty of care for our youngsters and sometimes fall well short of discharging our responsibilities towards them.

While battles rage about how schools and academies should be judged, and they are compared to one another by the Department for Education (DfE), Ofsted, the politicians, school and academy governors, education leaders, parents, academics and consultants (the bulls), the children (the ground) suffers.  The most vulnerable children – those with special educational needs and disabilities – suffer more than most.  In the academic year 2016/17, the latest year for which these statistics are available, SEND pupils constituted nearly 50% of permanent exclusions.  These children were six times more likely to be permanently excluded than those without special needs.  Often, the covert reasons for excluding them is so that the schools and academies can raise their positions in the test and examination league tables.

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