Ofsted raises concerns over high exclusion rates

Secondary school exclusions rates are among the highest in eight councils across the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber, Ofsted has said

Ofsted’s regional director for the North East and Yorkshire and the Humber, Cathy Kirby, is this week writing to secondary headteachers to raise her concerns about their rates of fixed-period exclusions.

Middlesbrough, Barnsley, Redcar and Cleveland, Doncaster, North Lincolnshire, Rotherham, Sheffield and North East Lincolnshire are among the top 10 in the country for secondary school exclusions.

A fixed-period exclusion means a pupil is barred from attending school for a set period of time, which can be anything from part of a school day up to a maximum of 45 days within a single academic year. This does not have to be continuous; pupils can be excluded for more than one fixed period.

To find out why exclusions in these eight areas are so high, Ms Kirby is calling on her inspectors to look very carefully at a school’s use of exclusion when making judgements about its leadership and management and pupils’ behaviour.

In her annual report, Her Majesty’s Chief inspector Amanda Spielman stated that she absolutely supports a school’s right to exclude pupils, but that it must only be used when necessary. For example when their behaviour is violent, threatening towards teachers or when it affects other pupils’ learning.

Ms Spielman has been very clear that it is never acceptable to exclude pupils, either formally or through pressure on parents, specifically to boost school performance. To tackle this issue, Ofsted inspectors will look even more closely for signs of off-rolling and will explore related reports about troublesome children being sent home on inspection days.

Reiterating the chief inspector’s position, Cathy Kirby said: “I fully appreciate variations between individual secondary schools and recognise that there may be valid reasons for schools to exclude pupils. But it is difficult to understand why fixed-period exclusion should be so much more necessary in these eight local authorities compared with others.

“Schools should only ever use exclusions as a last resort. If not properly applied, being removed from school can disrupt a child’s education and affect their future life chances.

“So I am asking inspectors to look very carefully at the use of exclusion in areas with high rates compared with national and regional figures. We want to be certain that pupils are being removed for the right reasons.”

Commenting on the rise of fixed term and permanent exclusions in schools, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“Rising numbers of exclusion is a worrying trend and one to which the Department for Education must give serious and constructive consideration. Schools should be places where all children can enjoy their learning in a supportive, vibrant and caring environment where they are supported to achieve their best.

“Instead the system is failing many children with the creation of an exam factory environment leading to some students feeling demoralised and lost. Chronic cuts to school and LA funding have also  resulted in many support services schools relied upon to cope with serious behavioural or mental health issues either closed down or drastically reduced.

“While there is not one magic solution the Education Secretary needs to address the ever narrowing curriculum and relentless focus on test and exam preparation. Schools and LA also need to have the funding necessary to give the support some families and children need to ensure they achieve their potential.”

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