Children as young as six 'written off' as school exclusions soar
- Credit: Elies Mann
Schools are being accused of "writing off" children to boost their exam results, after the number of temporary exclusions doubled in a few years.
Children under six are among thousands being banned from school - with experts saying the move to academies had made education "a driven business".
Temporary exclusions in Norfolk’s primary and secondary schools are now at a record high, with numbers more than doubling in the last six years.
Last year, a record 7,499 temporary exclusions were handed out, and of those, 2,875 were for persistent disruption.
Mike Smith-Clare, Labour lead for children and young people on Norfolk County Council, said: “The rise in fixed term exclusions is a desperately worrying trend. For any child to be written off is a tragedy.
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“Education has become a driven business. If you’ve got an unsuccessful part of that business, it’s easier to get rid of them than it is to help them.”
Fears are now growing that children with special education needs (SEN) are being disproportionately affected, and questions are being asked about the impact exclusion policy can have on young children and their families.
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Last year, 1,969 children were excluded from primary schools in Norfolk, more than double the number in 2012/13. Figures show 219 of those were children aged six or under.
In Suffolk, the figure was 1,820 last year, almost triple the number in 2012/13. There, 190 children aged six or under were excluded.
Parents of affected children think the academisations of schools and budget cuts means the easiest option is to get rid of problem children.
Keane Mann's mother Elies said he was six when he was first sent home from his school on the outskirts of Norwich. Over the next four years said he was excluded on many occasions.
“It started with phone calls about disruption, then came the exclusions,” said Elies. “It was like wading through a swamp. Then they started talking about permanent exclusion.”
Eventually, Keane was privately diagnosed as a slow learner, and was found to have symptoms of anxiety and stress.
This year a council funded Educational Health Care Plan (EHCP) was written for Keane, setting out the support he needs. He has since left the school and is thriving at Bramfield House School in Halesworth.
Elies added: “It’s had a massive effect on the whole family. No matter the pressures schools are facing, children shouldn’t be getting constantly excluded when they are six years old.”
'An impossible position'
Another mother, who asked not to be named, said her nine-year-old son had been excluded multiple times every year since year one. At the end of year two, he was diagnosed with autism, but the exclusions continued.
Three weeks into year four, he has been told he is at risk of permanent exclusion and the school has asked that he be home schooled while they find alternative provision for him.
“He now goes to an alternative setting twice a week, and is home schooled for the other three days,” said the mother.
“I think the majority of these children that are excluded persistently at a young age have special needs that aren’t being met by the schools. These children are in an impossible position.”
‘It’s taken my whole life away’
Darra Scandrett’s eight-year-old son Ollie attends Middleton Church of England Primary and Academy in Kings Lynn.
She’s lost count of the amount of times he’s been excluded and even though his school suspects Ollie has SEN she said doctors were reluctant to diagnose.
“I’ve been fighting for an EHCP for eight months,” said Darra. “But the school says he’s facing a permanent exclusion.”
Earlier this year, Ollie was ‘managed moved’, a process where headteachers agree that children can swap schools. But it only lasted eight weeks before he was back in Middleton.
Now he is only allowed into the school for half days, and since September has spent the majority of his time separated from his friends and peers.
“Something like this takes your whole life away as a parent,” said Darra.
Oliver Burwood, chief executive officer of the Diocese of Norwich Education and Academies Trust (DNEAT), of which Middleton Church of England Primary Academy is a member, said: “For reasons of confidentiality we are not able to comment on individual cases, but there are some relevant general points we would want to make about the use of fixed term exclusions.
“The most important thing to say is that as a Trust our aim is always to keep children in the classroom, and to reintegrate them back into school when an exclusion has taken place. Exclusions are always a last resort, but sometimes they will be necessary, perhaps to ensure the safety of other children and of staff within the school, or to ensure that other children’s education is not unduly affected by the behaviour of one child.
“We work hard to bring excluded children back into the classroom as quickly as possible. We provide support to families to help with this process, and where appropriate will aim to provide focussed support for the child, perhaps by starting with a part-time return. Our aim will always be to provide a route back for any excluded child."
In Norfolk’s secondary schools 5,530 fixed term exclusions were recorded last year, up from 2,761 in 2013-14.
In Suffolk, 4,067 were recorded, almost double the 2,288 recorded in 2012/13.
One parent, who asked not to be named, said she felt like she was watching her 13-year-old son self-destruct.
“He is supposed to be in the process of picking his GCSE subjects,” she said. “But instead has been excluded from his school near Norwich four times since September.”
Despite a recent ADHD diagnosis his mother said there was no support from the school, which has suggested permanent exclusion could be an option, and said her son spent most of his time in isolation when he was on the school grounds.
“He’s not getting an education sitting at home or in isolation for the majority of the week,” she added.
Norfolk National Education Union joint division secretary Scott Lyon said while many academy trusts acted ethically, there was a danger other trusts were using managed moves and exclusions to get rid of disruptive children and improve their results.
“The whole point of the academy project is to create a market of schools, and the market will get rid of children if it needs to,” he added.
What do teachers say?
The decision to exclude or not rests with individual headteachers, with some opting to do everything possible to avoid exclusions.
One experienced Norfolk primary school teacher, who asked not to be named, said a lack of funding was one of the big reasons behind high exclusion figures.
“Child and adolescent mental health services have lost a lot of funding, and waiting lists are growing and growing,” she said.
“Schools just don’t have the budgets to hire experienced teachers because they are too expensive, so there’s a lack of experience to deal with difficult children.”
Another teacher, who has worked in Norfolk secondary schools for 16 years and spoke on condition of anonymity, agreed academies were incentivised to get rid of “problem pupils”.
“If you have children who aren’t going to achieve, and you take them off the list then they are also off the academy’s percentages,” he said.
Figures are expected to drop off this year due to the short Covid-19 school year, though the Labour lead for children and young people on Norfolk County Council Mike Clare-Smith warned he expected the pattern to continue if nothing was done.
Norfolk County Council said its inclusions and opportunity service and inclusion helpline for academies worked hard to support school into finding alternatives to exclusions, and added it was planning to focus on more support and earlier interventions in the coming months.