Almost 100 children waiting for an education as school expulsions in Norfolk soar
- Credit: Steve Adams
Soaring numbers of pupils being expelled from Norfolk's schools mean that almost 100 children have fallen through the cracks and are currently missing out on any type of education.
The number of permanent exclusions around the county leapt from 170 in 2013/14 to 195 in 2014/15 and 296 in 2015/16, with 137 children excluded in the autumn term of this year alone.
To recoup costs and act as a disincentive, Norfolk County Council has today confirmed it is considering introducing a penalty charge to "reflect the true cost of exclusions", as parents accuse the system of failing children.
The inflated demand for places at the Short Stay School for Norfolk (SSSfN) - which is contracted by Norfolk County Council to offer places to excluded pupils - means it is bursting at the seams, with children relying on e-learning courses as they wait, sometimes for months, to get back into a classroom.
In November, 41 pupils were on the SSSfN waiting list - but as of today, day seven of our Fighting for Their Futures investigation, there are 96 children waiting to get a school place.
Des Reynolds, chief executive at the Engage Trust, which runs SSSfN, said the school traditionally reaches bursting point during summer term, but was full by the end of September this year.
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"The Engage Trust is deeply concerned with the numbers of young people who are unable to be accommodated in mainstream school provision," he said.
"We know that we have seen significant proportional rises in the numbers of young people with significant challenging behaviour at the youngest ages, but the reasons do not show a clear pattern."
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He said the SSSfN would offer an extra 60 places from September, but that a lack of mainstream spots to move children onto meant many were staying longer than planned.
Increasing mental health and behavioural needs have been blamed for the rise, with council figures for 2015/16 showing that persistent disruptive behaviour or physical assault against other pupils were behind the majority of exclusions.
But in Suffolk, figures are much lower - in 2014/15, just 65 pupils were permanently excluded and in Cambridgeshire, none were.
Though details on Norfolk County Council's proposed charge are limited, it may be calculated using cash schools receive per pupil - around £4,500 - and other funding streams.
The policy - which schools will be consulted on in summer - would be run through a proposed Norfolk Inclusion Incentive Fund, which would see the charge reinvested into reintegrating pupils and would include an updated managed moves scheme to help expelled pupils switch schools.
One headteacher, speaking anonymously, said imposing a penalty without offering greater support to schools trying to avoid exclusions was unfair, and said the weight placed on league tables had left heads with a "moral dilemma".
"When we are under such huge pressure to get the results, and when the system of accountability means that if you don't get those results you can be given a coasting school letters, or have forced academisation, that puts headteachers under a huge amount of pressure," they said.
"If you have got a child who is disrupting learning, then it is a moral dilemma. Your head says helping those children would be easier if the disruptive child wasn't there, but your heart asks what will happen to them."
But a spokesperson for Norfolk Primary Headteachers' Association and Norfolk Secondary Education Leaders said pressure to look good in league tables did not influence decisions and instead said more frequent behaviour problems were responsible.
"Permanent exclusions are a last resort," they said. "We are not in the business of wanting to exclude pupils. Schools are judged in a variety of different ways alongside performance, and we have to go through an exhaustive list of interventions before we got to permanent exclusions."
Roger Smith, chairman of the council's children's services committee, said the council was tackling the issue "head-on with a solid plan".
Alongside 60 places at the Engage Trust, he said they will buy another 32 from another provider, though the council could not confirm where the places would be.
'Failing our children'
Darren Ward's six-year-old son was permanently excluded from a Norwich primary school in November.
It took 85 days before he was provided a tutor for two hours a week and, despite being told he is fifth on the waiting list, he has been waiting for a place at the SSSfN since.
His mother, who worked for the NHS, initially took leave to stay at home with their son, but lost her job after the weeks turned into months.
The family managed to successfully challenge the appeal, but the school chose to pay a £4,000 fine and uphold the exclusion.
Mr Ward said his son is now at home, waiting to return to education, and said the lack of support was "especially galling" considering how quickly schools impose fines when children are absent from school.
He said there were "reams of parents tearing their hair out" and added: "The system is failing our children".
'So much pain and hurt'
One mother said her son was not offered another school place for four months after being excluded from a secondary school in south Norfolk at the start of this school year.
She admits he was disruptive, but she did not expect him to be excluded so soon in September, particularly as he was in his GCSE year.
The school told the mother that her son had hit a teacher. She said a review panel overturned the school's decision to exclude him but the school refused to take him back.
She said since his exclusion he had done little but sat in his room, appeared to be depressed and had lost trust in adults.
"He doesn't want to engage with anybody. I think he has lost trust in all adults, including us as parents," she said. "It has caused us so much pain and hurt."
•Have you been affected by permanent exclusions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org