Keeping pupils in school - does a school have to exclude?
In a flurry of media activity surrounding violent crime, gangs, county line drugs running and the meeting of the first ministerial task force on violent crime, one might be forgiven for having overlooked media coverage of the Timpson Review on Exclusions, which was published in May 2019. The review was a culmination of 14 months’ research commissioned by the Secretary of State for Education to review exclusions in schools, resulting in 30 recommendations to ensure consistent and appropriate application of exclusion rules across the country. The objective of the recommendations is to “create the best possible conditions for every child to thrive and progress.”
The most recent exclusion statistics for state-funded schools published by the Department for Education in July 2018 demonstrate a steady increase in the rate of both permanent and fixed-period exclusions since 2012/2013, when the current exclusion regulations came into effect. However, whilst young people are vilified in the media for their involvement in knives, drugs and gangs, it is in fact persistent disruptive behaviour that sees the highest rate of permanent and fixed period exclusions, accounting for more than one third (35.7%).
It will of course remain to be seen whether the recommendations arising from the Timpson Review make any significant difference to the current trends and whilst data is of course important for monitoring exclusions overall, for a parent of a pupil facing exclusion, it can be incredibly distressing. There are situations when exclusion is justified and the only option for the school involved. However, exclusion should always be a last resort, when other options have been exhausted.
So, what are the other options currently available to schools to avoid permanent exclusion of a pupil?
Internal exclusion is often used by schools to prevent a pupil from being excluded from class to a designated (safe) area within the school. If this measure is used, appropriate support and supervision should be in place. It might involve placing the pupil in a different class. This approach may not be suitable for every pupil, particularly a pupil with SEN, who may find isolation distressing, and due consideration should be given to this.
Exclusion at specific times
Most commonly used for lunchtimes, a school can exclude a pupil for a specific time during the day. However, it is important to note that this type of exclusion must still follow the rules for exclusions generally in respect of the process for notifying parents and also in terms of duration. It cannot continue indefinitely.
This is normally offered to an offending pupil to enable them to redress the harm caused to a victim and enables other stakeholders to participate.
Mediation through a trained mediator or third party can often be useful, particularly if persistent poor behaviour is experienced with a certain member of staff or certain subject.
A managed move is a ‘fresh start’ for a pupil at a new school. It is a three-way process, namely between the current school, the receiving school and the parents. It cannot be forced on parents. All parties must consent to the managed move, before it can take place.
It is worth noting that informal or unofficial exclusions, such as sending a pupil home to ‘cool off’ are unlawful, even if the parents or carer of that pupil consent. Applying pressure on parents to remove a pupil from school through encouragement or threat of permanent exclusion (a practice more commonly known as off-rolling) is also unlawful. For a school to formally exclude a pupil whether permanently or for a fixed-period, due process must be followed to ensure fairness and allow challenge.