School exclusions reviewed as pupils with special educational needs ‘overwhelmingly’ affected
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Almost half of children permanently excluded from school during 2019-20 had special or additional educational needs, new figures have revealed.
The news comes as Suffolk County Council undertakes an urgent “detailed review” into school exclusions in the county - saying it takes the issue very seriously”.
The statistics, released in response to a Freedom of Information request, show that 125 pupils were excluded over the full school year, and were described as “very sad reading” by a parents’ support group.
Out of these, 56 pupils (44%) had special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) or an education health and care plan (EHCP), outlining additional measures needed for their learning.
And the proportion was even higher for primary schools, where 29 of the 33 children excluded had either SEND or an EHCP - amounting to more than 80%.
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Mary Evans, cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills at Suffolk County Council, said: “School exclusions in Suffolk are under investigation because we take this issue very seriously.
“Suffolk County Council has commissioned a detailed review, which is currently under way and is being led by a skilled and experienced inspector from outside Suffolk.
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“Young people who have been excluded and their families are contributing to the review.
“School leaders and their governing bodies / trust boards make the decision to exclude pupils. We need to understand the details behind cases of exclusion, which can be many and varied, before we can press ahead and plan how to reduce exclusions.
“It is too early to report on this work as it is still ongoing. However, it is our intention to work with the whole school sector to create a more inclusive system in which fewer pupils are excluded from school.”
MORE: Urgent investigation launched as Suffolk school exclusions doubleThe council announced in July it had launched the urgent investigation, after it was revealed that numbers of children permanently excluded had doubled in the first two terms of 2019-20, compared to the same period last year.
The revelation came in a meeting of the Suffolk Schools’ Forum in June, with subsequent data showing that for the first two terms of this academic year there had been 114 permanent exclusions compared to 56 last year.
The figure has only risen slightly over the summer term, to 125. However, this was at a time when most pupils were not attending school because of coronavirus lockdown.
Another issue which has caused concern is schools pressuring parents to home-educate children.
It was said in data released last year there were eight cases in Suffolk during 2017/18 where pupils were ‘off-rolled’. This means schools deliberately encouraging parents to take their child out of school because they are disruptive or bring down a school’s overall results.
MORE: 800 pupils home educated as evidence found of schools pressuring parents Mrs Evans said: “We are aware that nationally there have been cases where families have been encouraged to remove a child from the school.
“I am pleased that this issue was picked up by Ofsted and became a focus for their inspection work prior to the national lockdown in March.
“I am pleased that Ofsted is going to continue to focus on exclusions when the formal full inspection arrangements are restarted.”
Bec Jasper from Parents And Carers Together (PACT) support group said the figures made “very sad reading”.
She commented: “The levels of exclusions for those with SEND continue to spell out that zero/low tolerance policies do not make allowances for some children or young people who really struggle, with little or no allowance or recognition of reasonable adjustments, which can sometimes make all the difference and don’t need to cost anything.
“For some time, also, the threat to parents of being fined when their child has low attendance, for many reasons including unmet SEND needs, has continued to see children off-rolled through lack of options.”
Jack Abbott, county Labour spokesperson for children’s services, education and skills, said: “For years I have warned about the severe educational and social consequences of exclusions, with the rate of fixed-term exclusions for primary school children in Suffolk among the highest in the country.
“Despite this, the Conservatives at Suffolk County Council have consistently dismissed the concerns of campaigners and families out of hand.
“A long-term failure to act has resulted in the huge number of permanent exclusions we are now seeing, exclusions that have overwhelmingly targeted children with special educational needs.
“While it is a step forward that a review has belatedly been commissioned, to say that the council has taken this issue ‘very seriously’ is, frankly, insulting to those families who have been failed repeatedly. The decent thing to do would be to finally take some responsibility and make an unreserved apology.”