Why so many exclusions?

This morning the local paper ran a story about the rising school exclusions in Norfolk here

There has been an almost 50% rise in exclusions last year with another 50 already expelled in the first seven weeks of the current year, according to the article. Four Head teachers gave their reasons. The first suggested that some expel to assist with the pupil gaining the specialist support they need – only it doesn’t. If a pupil needs specialist support, firstly there is the S66 governors duties to use their best endeavours to secure this support. Schools can also support parents in applying for an EHCP. The idea that exclusion triggers a chain reaction where a pupils needs will be met is, at best, incredibly naïve. Norfolk has too many pupils sitting at home doing nothing, I am in contact with some of these families.

Another suspects that some schools exclude to improve their league tables. Yes, that I can agree with. I have played the prediction game and, unfortunately, ‘won’.

A third states that the Short Stay Schools for Norfolk do not inspire confidence, so s/he won’t send a pupil there. The Head of the SSSfN said there were no quick fixes and the SSSfN’s role was misunderstood. Well yes, if the school from which the pupil has been sent does not changes its own systems, whatever cause the pupil’s reactive behaviour will still be there.

The fourth Head blamed the fractured system of between-school and between school and LA support. Sadly s/he added that in the past, schools agreed to accept their ‘fair share’ – and therein lies a problem. If you see pupils in terms of ‘fair share’ the pupils are already on to a loser.

I wondered if there is any correlation between the increase in Academies and ‘good’ graded schools in Norfolk. Chatting on Twitter earlier, Barney replied:

Perfect concluding remark. So:-

* Legacy problems

* Unrealistic short-stay aims

* Weak LAs

* Growth of academies

Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t but either way, we have a problem here and it’s increasing.

There is always a lot of chatter about funding, but much of this is not about the money, it’s about the support. The majority of excluded pupils have SEN, whether ‘diagnosed’ or not. All pupils deserve Quality First Teaching (QfT), or Wave 1 depending on a schools use of terminology. If a pupil appears to be having difficulty, Wave 2 (targeted support) and perhaps Wave 3 (specialist support) should be implemented. However, the Waves model tends to fall silent in high school, when it really shouldn’t. ‘SEN support’ is not separate from this, it is part of it. However, some pupils should go straight to EHCP, as QfT, Waves & SEN support, are insufficient to meet more complex needs.

What seems to be happening in Norfolk is a breakdown in support, since I think it would be implausible to suggest that our children have somehow suddenly been taken over by something else. While much has been said about Labour and Education, Education, Education, not so much has been said about the rapid expansion of Teaching Assistants in our schools at that time. At one point, TAs were the biggest growth area for jobs! But we seem to have lost our way. I’ve been in schools where TAs have had no training, none at all. One conversation went along the lines of ‘oh, I’m only here while my kids are little, just for a bit of extra money’. She was placed with a child who had global delay, much of her time was spent trying to get him to do work he couldn’t do. I call it the osmosis model, if the TA models the task often enough, the child will ‘absorb it’ just by sitting beside him/her. Well no, the task needs to be set out into small, achievable steps. Did that pupil learn? No. Has that pupil been taught any strategies to employ in order to achieve independence as a learner? No. Is that pupil likely to remain passively accepting of this throughout his school career?

A great many pupils need to be taught a series of strategies to be able to understand the tasks and expectations that schools set. The osmosis model will not work. Something else has happened too. I’ve seen wording on statements of SEN drift from ‘X will need to be taught strategies’ to ‘the school will use strategies’. A complete shift away from empowering a pupil. It wouldn’t now be unreasonable for a school to state that they’ve tried all kids of strategies, but they didn’t work. They won’t work if a pupil cannot access them! TAs have such an invaluable role here, they can be worth their weight in gold to a pupil, or act as a lead weight (the teacher, however, is always the one charged with providing appropriately differentiated work.

It is the systems within each individual school that make that difference. I cannot help but wonder what systems are in place in schools that feel the need to exclude. We have heard it said, over and over again, that good strategies for SEN/D are good strategies for all. If all pupils are taught, for example, how to give, ask and/or receive help from a TA, a teacher and each other, it is far less likely that the behaviours that cause exclusion would escalate to such a proportion. The Maximising the Impact (MITA) and Maximising the Practice (MPTA) of TAs both provide effective guidance & framework to support a whole-school approach to supporting all pupils. With the MPTA approach, all pupils understand if they have independently completed work, whether they self-scaffolded, required prompting, clues, modelling or correcting, whether from an adult or peers. Such an approach also allows the teacher to identify which pupils are actively learning and whether the work was too hard or too easy. Pupils learn how to ask questions and how to seek support, rather than sit still or worse, not sit still, when an adult isn’t present.

What I have heard is, rather than teaching a pupil to be independent, some schools are actually removing all support to ‘make them’ become independent – and so we’re back to the osmosis model. Unfortunately, by osmosis, the pupil is likely to find him or herself on the outside of their school. The fact that the four Head teachers gave differing responses reinforces the idea of a very fragmented system. Whatever the causes and whatever the solutions, Norfolk schools (nurseries and colleges) must come together to resolve this situation because we cannot allow this to continue.

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One thought on “Why so many exclusions?

  1. I think there’s another problem too. The culture has shifted. It used to be considered unacceptable to give up on a child. But talk from Michael Wilshaw and Michael Gove about firm discipline and stamping out poor behaviour, coupled with the rise in schools using “zero tolerance” policies – schools that are lauded with heads that are lorded – has made excluding children more acceptable. It’s even now linked with “good, firm leadership” whereas the opposite was true in the past. Now that there seems not only to be permission, but positive cultural approval, it’s very tempting for heads to move out the kids most likely to undermine their results. They’re taking the advantage they’ve been given.

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