Suffolk school exclusions leap up with rise of academies blamed by union
Exclusions dished out by schools in Suffolk have leapt up in recent years – and union bosses claim this is mostly down to academisation.
On average, 24 children were excluded for every school day in 2016/17, according to latest Department for Education data.
In total, 4,655 exclusions – fixed period and permanent – were handed out in that year, at a rate of 4.6 per 100 pupils.
That is up 53% from the level it was five years ago – in the school year 2012/13, a comparative 3,040 exclusions were recorded at state-funded schools.
The DfE figures include primary and secondary schools – of which many are academies – and special schools.
Persistent disruptive behaviour is blamed for 27% of the exclusions in 2016/17, while the majority of them (2,852) were dished out by secondary schools ahead of primary schools (1,765), and special schools (38).
Graham White, from the National Union of Teachers, linked the increase to academisation – the process by which local authority schools convert to academies.
He said: “We have to get back to a situation where the system works for each and every child.
“If you think about it, academisation came about back in 2011 – just when schools in Suffolk were getting a grip on exclusion rates.
“There has been a rise in five years, and I think you’ll find that this rise is mostly in academies.
“Academies are thinking more and more about their academic attainments, and there is a desire to meet targets and maintain league table positions.
“There is pressure to improve their Ofsted ratings and so on, which increases the pressure on the best pupils.”
Mr White also raised concerns about branding disruptive pupils as “failures” from an early age.
“Disruptive pupils are more commonly excluded,” he added.
“There is a culture of getting rid of disruptive children and not actually dealing with the problems at hand.
“Austerity is also a problem, there is pressure on parents, increasing pressure on both parents to work and all of those other social issues, and some of them can create a disruptive environment for children at home and at school.
“What we need to do is not brand pupils as failures from an early age if they do not meet academic targets.
“There is such a rigid testing regime for children right from KS1 onwards and I think we need a broader curriculum so it is appropriate for every single pupil.”
‘Exclusion is the last resort’ – education boss
Suffolk’s education chief Gordon Jones said that while Suffolk County Council (SCC) is not involved in making decisions about exclusions, it is always the last resort.
“School leaders including governors make decisions about exclusions in Local Authority (LA) maintained schools,” he said. “SCC is not involved in these decisions. The LA works with school leaders to find alternative approaches to prevent getting to the decision to exclude – exclusion is the last resort.
“Today headteachers have more powers and influence to maintain strong discipline, including the freedom to remove disruptive pupils from classrooms, no-notice detentions, extended search powers and putting schools back in charge of exclusion appeals. “The decision to exclude a child from school is not taken lightly – parents have a responsibility to help their child to learn to respect the rules the school has set for all pupils.
“With parents’ support and effective approaches by school leaders, children will be better supported to have a successful time at school.”
Police message over children at greater risk
Soon after the 2016/17 academic year ended, Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore called for agencies to work together to help children at greater risk of exclusion.
He was speaking after Acting Superintendent Simon Mills urged schools not to exclude pupils who are caught dealing drugs or with knives at a public meeting last July.
Acting Supt Mills said at the time: “One example of where we are trying to work with partners to prevent the attraction to gangs is where youngsters are caught doing things at school, whether it’s doing drugs or possession of a knife, and the school’s decision is to exclude them.
“This can push these children into the hands of gangs.”
Mr Passmore added: “I absolutely believe that early intervention is key in stopping lives spiralling in the wrong direction.
“I think it is very sad when job opportunities in later life could be because of mistakes made during their teenage years.”