What is driving the rapid rise in Norfolk school exclusions?
- Credit: Steve Adams
A massive rise in children being expelled from Norfolk schools has caused a crisis in the system. MARTIN GEORGE asked four headteachers what is driving the trend.
The system designed to cope with children who are expelled from mainstream education is struggling to cope with a massive rise in children being kicked out of Norfolk's schools.
As previously reported, there was an almost 50pc rise last year - from 195 to 284 - with another 50 already expelled in just the first seven weeks of the current academic year.
The rising numbers have forced the Short Stay School for Norfolk (SSSfN), which educates children who are permanently excluded, to introduce a 'one in, one out' policy, and Norfolk County Council, which has a legal duty to find them places, scrambling to find other providers with spare capacity.
What is driving this crisis? Four headteachers, who asked to remain anonymous, to give their views.
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One headteacher said some schools take the desperate step of expelling a pupil because it is the only way to trigger immediate support for mental health problems or special educational needs.
They said: 'The process of getting them specialist help does not work, because it just takes too long, because it's not there. The only way to get that support is to exclude them.
'Headteachers have expelled a child because they need that help, and the local authority has to get some provision for them within six days, whereas the formal process could take years. I don't blame headteachers for doing that.'
The view was echoed by another head, who said: 'By going for a permanent exclusion, it triggers everything that needs to happen. That help would not have come without that.'
School league tables?
There have long been suspicions that some schools have expelled pupils to remove low performing children whose exam results could damage their league table standings.
One headteacher said: 'Take some headteachers who are trying to protect themselves and their school - they have got a child who is on the verge of exclusion, and their ability is impacting on the school as a whole. It might have an influence on the decision to exclude or not, particularly for headteachers who are under a huge amount of pressure when a child is worth 1pc [to the school's exam results] and the school is very near the floor standard.'
However, another head played down the idea, saying: 'I don't go along with that. I don't think that's what they are in the business of doing.'
Lack of alternatives?
One headteacher said they did not have confidence in the impact of the Short Stay School on pupils referred to it, and so were reluctant to send children there, and or accept pupils the school said were ready to return to mainstream education.
They said: 'To offer a short time away from the school with intensive work with the youngster is all fine, but it puts them in an environment where they never come back into school policies and procedures when they come back out.
'We have all become very sceptical of the school phoning up and saying 'we have got someone ready to come back'. We say 'what's changed? Where's the evidence?''
However, Des Reynolds of the SSSfN, said some heads misunderstood the role of his school, and it was not commissioned to turn children around with a quick intervention.
He added: 'There's a belief that somehow the young person is going to be changed or fixed. That is not going to happen. What needs to happen is for the school to meet the needs of the pupil. The role of the Short Stay School is to understand the needs of the young person, so the next school can make provision to meet them.'
Breakdown of co-operation?
One headteacher pointed to a breakdown of co-operation between high schools as increasing numbers broke away from Norfolk County Council and became academies in recent years.
They said: 'We have a very fractured system in Norfolk, and it seems to me there's a complete breakdown of trust between secondary schools. They made this by saying they would jump on the academy band wagon, and now they don't know how to live with the consequences.'
The head said a previous system where schools agreed to accept their 'fair share' of children who had been excluded from another school, but were now ready to be re-introduced elsewhere, had broken down over the past five years.
However, Des Reynolds, executive head of the SSSfN, said that, while the system sounded fair, it had not worked well in practice, and did not match children to the school that best suited them.
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