Investigation launched as Suffolk school exclusions double this year
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An urgent investigation has been launched after new figures revealed the numbers of Suffolk school pupils permanently excluded doubled this year.
The revelation emerged in a meeting of the Suffolk Schools’ Forum on June 18, with subsequent data revealing that for the first two terms of this academic year there had been 114 permanent exclusions compared to 56 for the same period last year.
Of those 114, 53 children had special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) or an education health and care plan (EHCP) outlining additional measures needed for their learning.
Council bosses said the figures were for the period prior to Covid-19 but pledged a thorough investigation into the situation.
MORE: SEND pupils in Suffolk three times more likely to be excluded than peersConservative cabinet member for education, Mary Evans, said: “I and my fellow colleagues on the SEND oversight board are very concerned about the rise in the numbers of children who have been permanently excluded during the current school year.
“The doubling of numbers however does not just relate to pupils with SEND, it is across the pupil cohort.
“While this is a higher proportion than last year it is still below the national average, but this is clearly no reason for complacency.
“I have asked officers to begin a detailed piece of work urgently, which will involve representatives from across the whole education, health and care system in Suffolk, to understand the individual stories of children and their families that lie beneath these headline figures.
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“We will use this deep-dive to inform our future work to improve the support for all children and young people who face barriers to learning.”
With many schools now run by academy trusts rather than the local authority it is anticipated trust bosses will be among those questioned as part of the process.
Bec Jasper from Parents and Carers Together, an organisation which helps support Suffolk families around SEND, EHCPs and mental health, said: “The doubling in numbers shows there are still fundamental problems within the system which are not being addressed.”
Families PACT works with have reported issues around measures in EHCPs not being met, annual reviews not happening on time and in some cases struggles getting an assessment for special educational needs at all.
Ms Jasper added: “Many times if schools implemented appropriate reasonable adjustments based on the needs of the child it would enable the child to be supported and be facilitated to continue with their learning with school.”
Fears of the mental health impacts of exclusions had also been raised.
A timeline for how long the investigation will take or when findings will be presented has not yet been disclosed.
Councillor Jack Abbott, education spokesman for the county council’s opposition Labour group said warnings raised last year had been dismissed as “scaremongering”.
He said: “We have long warned about the scourge of school exclusions in Suffolk, particularly regarding the rate of fixed-term exclusions for primary school children, the levels of which are among the highest in the country.
“Repeated failures to act has led to dozens of children and young people being permanently excluded with severe educational and social consequences.
“The belated admission that we have a problem in Suffolk is an important step forward, but it is imperative this investigation is concluded quickly and its recommendations actually have some teeth and are properly implemented.
“Exclusions must only ever be used as a last resort, but too often children are paying the price because their needs are not being met.”