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
    on.

    “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
    care”.

    “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
    school.”

    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
    quality.

    £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
    16-year-olds. 

    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
    units.

    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
    schools.

    “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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