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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She is also an experienced broadcast and print journalist & author. Tania also runs a PR, web & social media consultancy, SocialOro Media. She is a Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate with Ehlers Danlos syndrome.
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