Secondary schools in Manchester see expulsions up by more than 40% in a year

CREDIT: This story was first seen in the Manchester Evening News

Manchester’s MP has warned new league tables are punishing schools for having challenging pupils on their books, the Manchester Evening News reports.

Rising family poverty, new school performance measures and budget cuts have all been blamed for a sharp spike in expulsions from Manchester’s secondary schools.

The number of children permanently excluded in the year to June rocketed 43% – more than half of them pupils with special educational needs.

Manchester’s MP has warned new league tables are punishing schools for having challenging pupils on their books, leading to more and more expulsions.

Other education figures have pointed to growing levels of emotional problems, hunger and tiredness among deprived schoolchildren.

The number of pupils expelled from Manchester’s secondary schools had been dropping steadily since 2007, but figures going before councillors next week show that flipped into reverse in 2013.

In 2015/16 they jumped, before soaring again the next year from 76 to 109, a rise of 43.4%. The city’s permanent exclusion rate is now twice the national average, although numbers have also been rising across the country as a whole.

The most common reason for expulsion was persistent disruptive behaviour, followed by physical assaults on adults.

Of those expelled, more than half – 56% – had special educational needs and more than 80pc were boys.

Manchester council is now seeking urgent explanations and action plans from those headteachers making the highest numbers of exclusions – and has set up a new board to try to tackle the problem, as well as sending in an SEN officer into schools to provide further training.

Several senior education figures spoken to by the M.E.N. said to the government’s new school performance measure, known as Progress 8, was a key part of the problem.

That now sees schools ranked according to the progress a child makes compared to their starting point – but Manchester Central MP Lucy Powell, who sits on parliament’s education select committee, said that effectively punished secondaries for keeping on pupils with behavioural issues.

Describing the situation as ‘a growing scandal in our education system’, she added: “These figures in Manchester are a cause for concern. Unfortunately, schools are not rewarded for keeping challenging children on their roll, in fact the opposite is the case.

“Indeed, as schools are increasingly fragmented and the new curriculum’s become narrower and much more academic, this problem is set to get worse.

“I met with the Head of Manchester’s Pupil Referral Unit last week. We are pioneering new ways of dealing with exclusions but government policy often stands in the way of these approaches.”

Ian Fenn, headteacher at Burnage Academy for Boys, said several ‘unintended consequences’ of government policy were behind the rise in exclusions.

Some heads may have started expelling struggling youngsters rather than send them to expensive Pupil Referral Units – alternative provision for children with behavioural problems – to save money, he said, as budgets were squeezed.

At the same time Progress 8 means any poor results scored by those pupils would have a much bigger impact on a school’s performance than previously, providing a further incentive to exclude them instead.

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Meanwhile changes to the national curriculum brought in under Michael Gove had been targeted learning towards academic, ‘1950s’-style education, he said, which did not suit all children.

“Teachers don’t want to exclude,” he said.

“But you’ve got all these factors playing into the fact schools are permanently excluding, whereas in the past, they’d send pupils to the PRU.

“It’s the unintended consequence of government policy for the last five years. This is where it has ended up.”

Youngsters from deprived backgrounds are now also starting schools with more severe social problems, he added, including a lack of sleep, nutrition and family difficulties at home.

Manchester council’s children’s scrutiny committee will discuss the figures at its meeting next week.

Its chair Julie Reid said ‘Dickensian’ levels of deprivation among some youngsters – including ‘kids coming into school with no food in their lunchboxes’ – were having a major impact on behaviour and learning.

She agreed changes to school performance measures and curriculum were also driving the rise in exclusions, but said that was still no excuse.

“The answer isn’t to exclude, it’s to do more, it’s to come up with measures to catch children earlier,” she said.

“There are schools that are inclusive and barrier-free, so what is it that they’re doing that other schools are not? That’s what I’ll be asking. We want to drill down and ask why.

“Ethically it’s out of order and it’s not good enough.”

Councillor Luthfur Rahman, executive member for education at Manchester council, said: “Like other parts of the country we’ve also seen an increase in permanent exclusions over the last couple of years, but whilst we know what this raw data is, it’s harder to identify the reasons behind it.

“Reducing this number is however a key priority for us and we’re trying to get a better understanding of the issues involved so we can support schools in tackling them, working with other partners as appropriate.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “Any decision to exclude a pupil should be lawful, reasonable, and fair, and permanent exclusion should always be used as a last resort. “Should a school believe there are grounds to exclude a child, either for a fixed period or permanently, parents have the opportunity to ask for the decision to be reviewed.

“We have announced an externally led review of exclusion practice to ensure we have a system that works for every pupil, regardless of background.”

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