Alarm bells ring in the staffroom over drive to reduce exclusions

    The government is on a drive for schools to become more inclusive.
    With Youth Justice Board figures showing that excluded young people
    are twice as likely to commit offences than children in mainstream
    schools its motivation is clear, but what do you do when a badly
    behaved child is constantly disrupting the rest of the class?

    The YJB sees the answer as persuading schools to adopt preventive
    initiatives that help children to behave better and reduce the need
    to exclude them. But some teachers say it is difficult and too
    time-consuming to find the resources to support unruly children.

    “I don’t think it’s realistic. The YJB needs to understand the
    pressures they [schools] are under,” says John Bangs, head of
    education at the National Union of Teachers.

    The YJB has set up and promoted several preventive initiatives to
    reduce exclusions. One, safer schools partnerships, involves a
    police officer based on school premises acting as a mentor to young
    people and trying to help them improve their behaviour inside and
    outside school.

    Restorative justice is another initiative, in which the young
    offender takes responsibility for their crime and apologises to the
    victim. It aims to keep the offender in school.

    Chris Keates, acting general secretary of teachers’ union Nasuwt,
    says she has no problem with the idea of early intervention but
    schools have to be given the resources and the capacity to carry it
    out. The main complaint from union members is that when they need
    support with a badly behaved pupil they are faced with a
    “bureaucratic minefield”.

    Keates adds that teachers need to find support quickly for such
    pupils but that in many local education authorities this involves
    lengthy, drawn-out processes.

    Government figures released last week showed there were 9,290
    permanent exclusions from primary and secondary schools in England
    in 2002-3, a decrease of 3 per cent on the previous year.

    Although ministers hail the reduction as a victory, Bangs argues
    that it fails to reflect the true level of bad behaviour in
    classrooms. This is partly due to the government’s inclusion agenda
    filtering down to local education authorities which are unwilling
    to exclude badly behaved children. He says: “LEAs are applying an
    inclusion approach that says you will not exclude in any
    circumstances.”

    Bangs adds that some LEAs do not have enough educational provision
    for excluded children and that this also fuels their reluctance to
    exclude.

    “We have said for years that all LEAs need to review their range of
    provisions for children who have been excluded and those who are
    outside school for a number of different reasons [such as health
    problems],” he says.

    Keates says some LEAs are putting pressure on governors to overturn
    headmasters’ decisions to permanently exclude children. Parents can
    make representations to the school’s governing body if they
    disagree with a decision.

    “Many LEAs have cut down on pupil referral units. Many don’t want
    to be faced with providing alternative provision,” she says.

    Jane Phillips, chair of the National Association of Governors and
    Managers, defended governing bodies. “It’s an incredibly difficult
    job that governors have to do in relation to exclusion. They try to
    do it to the best of their ability.”

    Keates says, until recently, some pupils were only receiving
    education for a few hours a day but the government had brought in
    regulations to make sure they have full-time provision.

    She argues that it is the lack of proper alternative provision that
    causes children to become socially excluded rather than their
    exclusion from a mainstream school.

    She would like to see the exclusion debate refocus to look at what
    happens to a child once they are excluded.

    “There’s an underlying assumption that schools are simply excluding
    young people without giving it much thought. For the majority of
    schools it is the last resort,” she says.

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