The following article has been written by Deborah Robinson.
You may have heard reference in the media about a report produced by the Education Select Committee of MPs into alternative educational provision to mainstream schools.
The report is entitled “Forgotten children: alternative provision and the scandal of ever increasing exclusions” and examines both the delivery of, and route to, alternative provision. Pupils can find themselves in an alternative provision setting for a number of reasons including exclusion and physical or mental ill health.
The full report can be found here: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmeduc/342/342.pdf
While the context and reasons for the inquiry and subsequent report (which I won’t rehearse here) are concerning, it is encouraging to see the conclusions and recommendations made by the Committee. Again, I won’t rehearse them all here but I will highlight some that I feel are worth particular mention.
“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…..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)”
Despite Statutory Guidance in relation to exclusions, which was updated and re-published in September 2017, which states that head teachers should look behind the behaviour leading to a potential exclusion to identify the underlying cause, it would appear that in many cases exclusion is often seen the easier option. Head teachers may feel pressured to focus on the attainment of the school overall rather than that of individual pupils. That is clearly wrong.
“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)”
My colleagues and I often speak to parents who feel quite simply overwhelmed by the system. They often don’t have the resources in terms of finances or even just time to seek sufficient help or advice and are left in a situation where they can feel quite disadvantaged. The recommendation for an independent advocate to be appointed in certain circumstances is welcome. As a Mental Health law as well as an Education law practitioner, I have seen at first hand the vital support an advocate with the right training and experience can give.
“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. These pupils are being denied access to post-16 education because 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)”
Any expansion to post 16 provision can only be a positive step, particularly given the changes brought about by the Children and Families Act 2014, whereby Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs - formerly Statements of Special Educational Needs) can now last until a young person reaches the age of 25.
Of course the real test will be how the recommendations are implemented. Schools, I am sure, are under a lot of pressure in terms of standards, resources and financially. For any changes to work there must be adequate support for schools and alternative provision providers, as well as parents and carers.
I also look forward to reading the Timpson Exclusions Review in due course, which I hope will further emphasise some of the findings in the report published today.
If you have a child who has been excluded from school, either permanently or for a fixed period, then we can advise you about your rights and assist you in challenging the decision. We can also assist with identifying any other underlying issues that are not adequately being addressed and help you with securing the right support for your child.