Response to DfE call for evidence on school exclusion practice

“The RSA and RSA Academies are responding to the DfE call for evidence on exclusions, drawing on our combined experience in the education policy field and from working directly with our family of seven RSA Academies. We very much welcome the DfE’s decision to look in more depth at the reasons for the increase in the number of children being excluded through both official and informal routes, and your work to better understand how schools and other services can work effectively together to reduce levels of exclusion and ensure children are effectively supported in a mainstream setting.

The consultation asks specifically about the drivers for exclusion: the reasons for difference in exclusion rates for pupils from different groups, including the disproportionate levels of exclusion amongst Black Caribbean and White Irish Traveller Children; pupils who are eligible for free school meals, those with SEND, and, of course boys. You also note that schools vary considerably in their approaches to exclusion by geography, and that schools with apparently very similar cohorts of pupils differ significantly in their levels of exclusion.

It is important to examine the intersectional nature of patterns of exclusion. The over-representation of certain ethnic minority groups is shown to intersect with other characteristics including SEN diagnosis and poverty. For example, Traveller pupils of Irish Heritage and Gypsy/Roma pupils are over-represented among many categories of SEN, including Moderate, and Severe Learning Difficulties, and Behavioural Emotional Social Difficulties. Data shows that children with SEN are seven times more likely to be excluded, therefore this could explain in part the over-representation of these ethnic minority groups. It is also worth noting that the aforementioned study identified that socio-economic background is a stronger predictive factor for SEN diagnosis than ethnicity. More research is needed to understand the underlying factors that predict exclusion.

There is, however, a risk that by focusing on specific groups that are over-represented in the exclusions statics, the DFE analysis may miss the wider systemic issues which are driving the rise in exclusions.

Only a small proportion of the children who are out of school have left following a permanent exclusion. The DFE’s separate consultation on home education highlights the increasing number of children who are being educated other than at school. Whilst in many cases this will be as a result of positive parental choice, a recent Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) survey found that the most common reason for home schooling was ‘general dissatisfaction with the school’.  ADCS highlighted the complexity of the issue through narrative responses, which revealed that some parents experienced the threat of attendance penalty notices or exclusion prior to their decision to home school.

The RSA report, Between the Cracks, found that 300,000 children move schools each year at a time other than the normal admission point.  Of these around 20,000 pupils missed more than a full term of school. All of this adds to the growing evidence that both primary and secondary schools are increasingly “off-rolling” children, asking the parents to remove the child rather than go through a formal exclusion process.

It is therefore likely that some of the differences in exclusions rates between schools is due to some schools using formal exclusion routes with others taking the less transparent “off-rolling” route. This means that any policy responses should address informal as well as formal exclusion.

In our view, two main factors are driving the increase in exclusions (formal and informal), both of which are compounded by the constrained financial circumstances of schools and the agencies that traditionally support the most vulnerable children and their families.

The first is the number of children in our schools with a mental health need. Statistics presented to the Health Committee enquiry into Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in 2014 indicate that:

  • One in ten children aged between 5 and 16 years has a mental disorder.
  • About half of these (5.8%) have a conduct disorder, 3.7% an emotional disorder (anxiety, depression), 1-2% have severe Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and 1% have neurodevelopmental disorders.
  • The rates of disorder rise steeply in middle to late adolescence and the profile of disorder changes with increasing presentation of the types of mental illness seen in adults.

The Health Committee also received evidence suggesting that around 30% of English adolescents reported a level of emotional wellbeing considered as (sub-clinical) “low grade” poor mental health, that is they regularly (at least once a week) feel low, sad or down.

This represents a large number of children: three children in every class with a mental disorder, and perhaps as many as nine children in each secondary school class of 30 with “low grade” poor mental health. But of course, these children will not be evenly distributed amongst schools. The same report found children growing up in disadvantaged homes are three times more likely to have mental health difficulties than those growing up in more advantaged households. Research shows that young people with mental health problems are 10 times more likely to be excluded. So, the increase in exclusions, and indeed the difference in exclusion rates by income and special needs, may well relate to the number of children schools admit with these additional needs, and the extent to which they are able to commit their own resource and access additional support for these children.

The second key factor to take into account is the high pressure accountability framework which, as explored in the RSA’s recent Ideal School Exhibition report appears to be encouraging some schools to “game the system”. This “gaming” takes many forms, from teaching tightly to the test; to narrowing the curriculum in the upper years of both primary and secondary schools to focus solely on the subjects that will count in league table measures; to using formal and informal exclusions to remove pupils who may lower the school’s SATs and Progress 8 scores. There is evidence that these tactics could have significant effects on the scores by which schools are judged. Research from Education Datalab found that school’s Progress 8 scores would have been lower if the scores of excluded students had counted towards the results.

We therefore very much welcome Minister of State Nick Gibb’s indication at this week’s Education Select Committee that schools should be accountable for the results of pupils that they exclude. A similar recommendation was made in the RSA’s Ideal School Exhibition.  To avoid any risk of the policy change resulting in an increase in off-rolling it is recommended that schools should be held accountable for the results of all children who leave and do not immediately start at a new school, proportionate to the time they spent on roll. We also welcome the Minister’s indication that Ofsted will ensure that mainstream schools are held accountable for the quality of education that students go on to receive following exclusion.

A change to the accountability framework along these lines, alongside funding and initiatives to support schools and other agencies to work effectively together to support the most vulnerable children, would go a long way to reducing the increase in exclusions and children missing out on education.”

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The RSA is proposing a new piece of research on this issue which will explore the critical junctures in the educational journeys of vulnerable children and make recommendations to enable these children to thrive. To find out more about how you could support this work, please contact Laura Partridge on laura.partridge@rsa.org.uk.

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This is taken from Pinball Kids: working together to reduce school exclusions, a blog written by Laura Partridge and Alison Critchley.

This is where you can contribute to the Department for Education’s call for evidence on school exclusions. The call closes on 6 May 2018.