Pupils with SEND are up to six times more likely to be permanently excluded from school according to new government figures. The annual exclusions data show that overall exclusions – both permanent and fixed-term - are rising year-on-year in an upward trend that began in 2013, after a period where they had been on a downward trend since 2007. And half of all those excluded had some type of identified special educational need. These figures relate to 2016/17
Pupils with identified special educational needs (SEN) accounted for around half of all permanent exclusions (46.7 per cent) and fixed period exclusions (44.9 per cent).
So since the SEND reforms, and unsurprisingly, since school funding pressure has increased, schools are becoming less willing or less able to cope with “difficult” pupils. With fewer schools providing teaching assistants and support for SEND often the first victim of school belt-tightening, it’s inevitable that pupils who are the most troublesome for staff will be shown the door. Whatever happens to them after that is someone else’s problem, isn’t it? And once out, they’re unlikely to get back in – independent reviews of individual exclusions are most likely to side with the school.
It’s a good job that there is an inquiry, led by former SEND Minister, Edward Timpson, into exclusion currently underway because these 2018 figures show that across the board it's continuing to increase, especially if you are a boy, you’re poor, are black Caribbean, have SEND or … wait for it… are in Year 9 or above. In fact, over half of all permanent (57.2 per cent) and fixed period (52.6 per cent) exclusions were in Year 9 or above, with a quarter of them being 14 years old. Just before they hit GCSEs, thus making it far harder for them to ever pass exams, progress to FE or a Level 3 apprenticeship. Don’t wanna upset those school performance stats, now do we headmaster?
School's out, who's out?
The picture is stark:
- If you have an EHCP/statement: FIVE times more likely for permanent exclusion than those without SEN
- If you are on SEN Support: SIX times more likely than those without SEN
- If you are Black Caribbean: THREE times more likely to be excluded than the overall figure
- If you are a boy: THREE times more likely to be excluded than girls
- If you’re from a low income family: almost THREE times than if you don’t qualify for Free School Meals (FSM)
- Pupils with an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan or with a statement of SEN had the highest fixed period exclusion rate at 15.93 per cent - over five times higher than pupils with no SEN (3.06 per cent).
- If you live in the West Midlands and the North West, you’re more likely to be excluded than if you live in the South East.
- Meanwhile if you reside in Yorkshire and Humber you’re less likely to be permanently excluded but most likely to have a fixed exclusion.
Those children on FSM make up a whopping 40% of ALL exclusions. What chance do these already deprived children have? These are the children whose parents rely on their child getting a hot meal at school - possibly the only one they’ll have all day. Being poor and hungry is enough to make anyone angry. When you have to rely on food banks over the holidays or you see your mum going without to feed you and your siblings, it’s not hard to imagine feeling that school is pretty pointless.
Why are they being excluded?
Could it also be that pupils are becoming more unhappy and angry - is the national malaise we're all feeling over the state of the world having an impact on our children too? How could it not? They are less protected from world events than they ever were - just look at your own Facebook news feed - and when it comes to money and status, they only have to open Instagram to see what they haven't got.
Even if they aren’t on a low income, the constant pressures from keeping up with friends (if you have any), social media in general and demands of constant testing at school all take their toll. So if you have additional needs and lack support, then you are very likely to become disillusioned with school too– who wouldn’t be?
The biggest increases in reasons for exclusion are for “persistent disruptive behaviour” aka, pupils whose needs are not being met; and physical violence against another pupil – in other words, anger. Meanwhile, when you look at the type of SEN an excluded child has, it’s those with social, emotional and mental health difficulties that are the most likely to find themselves turfed out of school.
So, an increase in angry boys with unmet social, emotional and mental health needs, many of whom are poor and have SEND. We don’t know, of course, how many of those categorised as ‘No SEN’ actually do but are undiagnosed or whose needs are as yet undiscovered. Add to that experienced teachers walking away and support staff being let go and there is your perfect storm for exclusion that we are seeing.
What to do?
Mr Timpson certainly has his work cut out because to me, the reasons are clear – it’s the solution that is the hard part.
And, like fixing SEND, fixing exclusions means ££££ – billions of them. It means a strong and sustained desire to ensure that we don’t just write off those children who are difficult to support – who may even fight against that support when it is offered. It means getting to the root of the social problems that make them angry in the first place: poverty and racial bias and feeling excluded from society - and, of course, SEN that make them unable to make sense of school in the first place. And on top of that, schools and local authorities need a clear understanding that when a special educational need is suspected, or a child is doing less well than they should, action should be taken early enough to ensure a small barrier doesn’t become a permanent brick wall.
You can see from these numbers how putting a definite focus on something in schools can make a difference – the figures have also shown a marked decrease in exclusions for bullying – very possibly because of the focus on it in anti-bullying strategies from government and charities – and from celebrities on social media (so that's one thing it's helped rather than made worse...). This should be a lesson to all – put enough emphasis on something in schools and in the media and you really can start to change behaviour.
However, setting these SEN figures against 2012, we reported figures then that showed pupils with statements were NINE times more likely to be excluded.
Of course, none of these figures state whether the exclusions were legally carried out … but that’s another story.
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- How well is the Government respecting children with SEND’s right to education? - May 16, 2023
- SNJ in Conversation with Carrie Grant: Supporting children at the intersection of SEND, Race and Gender Identity - May 12, 2023
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There is an answer to the school exclusion crisis and it is this: Outlaw the practice altogether, encourage schools to use better behaviour management techniques, and ensure that identification of SEN becomes a fundamental part of teacher training. When you are a 14 year old boy, with ADHD and ODD you are used to being told off all of the time, excluded regularly, isolated virtually daily, then trust me – being sent home is a welcome respite not a behavioural sanction.
The effects of being sent home are injurious to the child, the parents and the family as a whole. I know of very few, if any, mums of children with ADHD who are able to hold down even a part time job. I have seen the affect on people of the dreaded phone call from school. As a small employer, I watch the colour drain from their faces as they tell me they have to go – for the third time that week. I don’t fire them – many employers are eventually forced to do so. Most women don’t come to work in my shop because it’s a great career choice – they do it for the money – because they need the money and without it they know their children will go without.
My own grandson has ADHD, ODD and PTSD. He swears almost all of the time at school. At home he swears less, and the reason he swears less is that we don’t exclude him for it. We point out that he has sworn and then let it go. At school he swears, gets sent out of the classroom, probably has a running argument with the teacher and refuses to go and see the head of year because he knows what is going to happen next, the head of year is then summoned to come to the classroom, my grandson will probably swear at him too, head of year picks up his phone and telephones mum. By the time mum gets there, all is calm and my grandson is sitting quietly in reception waiting for her. Oftentimes my grandson will have already forgotten what caused it all. Mum takes him home and is forced, by law, to stay and supervise him. This happens at least once a week – over and over and over again! Has it stopped him swearing – absolutely NOT! Has it damaged his education – ABSOLUTELY . Does my grandson even care – NOT ANY MORE!
But, you may ask, what if the swearing could be stopped but hasn’t been because of poor, useless, uncaring, badly educated parents. Surely in this instance the parents should be shown the error of their ways and their errant child should be removed by them forthwith. Well, if you are at all logical about this, then that is not going to work either. Why would you want to be continually removing children from a positive nurturing environment at school and sent back into the care of inadequate parents. Surely, the system would then be guilty of withdrawing any positive behavioural influence they may have! Worse, these ‘bad’ parents may allow the child onto the streets where there are plenty of gangs, drug runners and other excluded members of society waiting to befriend and embrace them with open arms.
Then how do we discipline these children? Forget discipline – yes you heard it first here – forget discipline – forget it, forget it, forget it! Put the children into small groups with specialist teachers and teaching assistants. Teach them tolerance by being tolerant. In the beginning let the small things slide. Use praise, consistently and shamelessly, wherever you can. Don’t let bad behaviour go unremarked, but get over it – as quickly as possible. Make lessons last 20 minutes maximum and set a timer so that the kids can see how long they have to go – then give them a 5 minute chat, make jokes, call your mum break. Make sure they can still see the timer so that they know when the 5 minutes is up. But goodness I hear you cry – that will cost billions! Yes it will, but arguably less than the school exploited SEN Budget, less than making it impossible for parents to provide for their children through work, less than the between £65,000 and £250,000 per year, per child, when they end up in young offenders institutes or secure education establishments, less than the cost of society having to raise their children for them, less than the cost of keeping them in adult prisons and treating them for drug addiction, alcohol addiction and gambling addiction.