There are no excuses as to why we fail our most vulnerable pupils so why do we? Well, this is a very good question! According to a very old article in the TES from 2001 there are no excuses for failing our most vulnerable pupils! Yet in December 2017, over a decade and half since this report in the TES, Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector of Ofsted warned of the “‘deep injustice’ of rising exclusion rates.” She highlighted the practice of expelling or removing by other methods, such as off-rolling, students who would reduce a school’s results because of their low grades, which would affect a school’s standing in the league tables.
To quote some figures from The Guardian’s article:
- Government figures show 6,685 pupils permanently excluded from schools in England in 2015-16.
- 48,000 pupils are being educated in the “alternative provision” sector.
- Some children are removed through “managed moves” between schools.
- The number of children being voluntarily home educated has more than doubled over the past four years (IPPR).
There are several methods that schools use to move pupils. The obvious one is exclusion, and there may be cases of permanent exclusion where there is a real danger to pupils and staff of course, but this does not get down to roots of the issue. Instead it ‘criminalises’ the pupil’s behaviour who as Amanda Spielman pointed out, “are being handed a de facto life sentence due to the poor education they receive.”
Then there is off-rolling. This is a more insidious practice in which schools will move pupils, including a ‘managed move’ between schools. Some of these methods are not transparently recorded. One taxi driver I chatted to recently has been experiencing this trauma of a ‘managed move’ situation in which his autistic son has been moved three times since joining secondary school. The detrimental effect of this not only on his son’s disrupted learning and social stability, but on the family’s relationships had got to an unbearable point. I was very glad to have given him some pointers.
Why is this happening?
Perhaps for reasons linked to three areas:
- League Tables. Schools are under so much pressure to keep up the grades and attainment of pupil cohorts year-on-year that the threat of being given a ‘notice to improve’ or worse yet, ‘special measures’ is psychologically damaging to the dedicated staff in many schools. On the other side of this coin is the government policy for social mobility and inclusion. All pupils have a right to be educated together; we do not want to return to the social exclusion prevalent in the 19th and early part of the 20th
- Staff Training. Or rather the lack of staff training in educating pupils with SEND, some of whom have complex needs. While the law states in the SEN Code of Practice that no school can refuse to admit a pupil on the basis of their need, there is an identified need for increased SEND training.
- While Pupil Premium is ring-fenced money given to schools with the intention of helping to raise attainment, for some pupils who have more complex needs, who qualify for Premium Plus, they need support and interventions which go beyond and are additional to, merely academic support. Education is not solely about achieving grades. Schools are now getting rid of subjects such as Art and Music, and R.E. is under threat too. With such decisions being made on a financial basis it is the students who suffer in the short term, but society is affected in the long term.
Finally, let’s go back in time to the TES article from 2001 https://www.tes.com/news/no-excuses-failure titled, ‘No excuses for failure’. In this report about a group of Essex headteachers looking after schools in difficult situations including Special Measures, they proved that there were no excuses for failing their most vulnerable pupils.
In this article the Heads’ collaborative approach, the willingness to celebrate and acknowledge every achievement and the planning that went into their project had a positive impact on the pupils as well as the staff. They had ‘unwarranted optimism’. Let’s conclude with the quote from Geoff Southworth Professor of Education at Reading University, who worked with the heads who said, “The time may have come to look at headship more radically…there needs to be more free time for teachers and heads to reflect on their work. We need to look at the quality, not the quantity, in terms of the hours people are putting into their work at nights and weekends.”