Special report: Schools “lose track” of 10,000 pupils

Schools and local education authorities have lost track of
around 10,000 pupils who have been suspended, excluded or failed to
show up at all, the schools inspectorate Ofsted reports,
writes Craig Kenny.

“Too many children are still in danger of being lost to
the system, becoming disaffected and underachieving,” says
its new report.

“Disturbingly, the lack of robust systems and support are
doubly disadvantaging the very children and young people who are
most in need.”

While inspectors found good practice in many of the 10 local
education authorities it examined, they also found significant
weaknesses in the way some LEAs and schools keep track of pupils
when they are excluded or referred to alternative provision.

Failing to analyse available data

A majority of these LEAs were not analysing data on exclusions
and bad behaviour to see if particular groups of children needed
targeting, says Ofsted.

One in 10 children caught in truancy sweeps claimed to have been
excluded, but many schools neglected to check whether this was true
or follow-up the child to see if their attendance improved later

“Weak” explanations were often given when a child
was taken off the school roll, simply noting that they “never
arrived”, had “moved” or were “in

“This lack of information is a cause for concern,
indicating a high potential for children to be lost to the
system,” warns the report.

Some schools also kept no data on the number of looked-after and
refugee children on their rolls. And three LEAs did not check
compliance with child protection regulations.

Some pupils fall down the cracks

Social services directors are aware that some pupils do fall
down the cracks in the education service.

“Anecdotally we recognise that social services staff
sometimes deal with children who have been permanently excluded and
are awaiting placement or where their status appears to have become
blurred,” says John Coughlan, co-chair of the ADSS children
and families committee. He insists that these cases are rare.

“If we are serious about the agenda in Every Child Matters
it’s not good enough for social services to simply wash their
hands of the issue where they are working with children outside of
school,” says Coughlan.

“We need to make sure that care staff with looked after
children are lobbying to get those children back into

Schools minister Stephen Twigg says that a multi-agency shared
register of all children in each area is part of the solution to
prevent pupils being lost.

New Foundation partnerships, in which schools pool resources and
expertise in addressing bad behaviour and provision for excluded
pupils, are his answer to Ofsted’s criticisms of varying

£7 million over three years

Last week’s headlines, however, focused on Twigg’s
approach to tackling bad behaviour and truancy – another
£7 million over three years for Skill Force, ex-military
instructors who take on truanting, violent or disruptive 14 to

The target group is the “hardcore” two per cent of
pupils who account for almost half of unauthorised absences.

Ministers say that the scheme reduces exclusions – by 70
per cent, according to an independent study – as well as
truancy.  But some professional groups, like the National Union of
Teachers, question whether army discipline is the right way to deal
with vulnerable teenagers.

However, both main political parties want to appear tough on
truants and tearaways.

Since coming to power Labour has doubled the capacity of pupil
referral units, and recently the Tories unveiled plans to double it
again. Ofsted reports satisfaction among pupils referred to these

But Labour also aims to reduce exclusions – it has cut the
numbers by 25 per cent since coming to power. The real debate is
about to what extent disruptive pupils should be kept in mainstream

“Quick to lay blame”

A lot of schools feel under siege. “Ofsted are very quick
to lay the blame at the door of schools or LEAs which are coping
with large numbers of children from dysfunctional families,”
says Jan Myles, assistant secretary of the National Association of
Head Teachers.

“Most of the problems that we are talking about is down to
the fact that there are not enough resources to support children
with behavioural problems. A lot of LEAs closed pupil referral
units and did away with special schools.

“Inclusion should be inclusion in education, not in
mainstream schools. A lot of children can’t cope in classes
over 30 if they are emotionally distressed. They are exhibiting
symptoms of emotional turmoil and instability.”

“We recognise that in some schools coping with challenging
children puts a strain on the school,” says Coughlan.
“They need adequate support for some children with more
extreme needs.

“We would be very concerned if there was a shift away from
an inclusion policy. We don’t want to see sin bins for
children for whom hope is then lost.”


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