Exclusion is now one of the main ways of dealing with extreme behaviour. Headteacher Suzanne O’Connell examines recent guidance and legislation on the subject.

Legislation may come and go. Children will be educated (or not), grow up and produce the next round of pupils. Rules will be agreed, broken and sanctions administered. Whatever might change, concern about children’s behaviour remains.

One advantage of being headteacher of an ‘old’ school is having, on occasions, the benefit of historical records to take some solace from. Perusal of our own archives demonstrates that 100 years ago, behaviour was as much of a concern as it is now. Punishments were administered (albeit of a slightly different variety) but unlike the popular myth, strokes of the cane did not appear to make an enormous amount of difference to behaviour. Children still reoffended and the punishment book is evidence that the same names crop up for more.

Of course, the cane is no longer available as the ultimate deterrent. Headteachers have little else to resort to than a range of exclusions. Fixed-term and permanent exclusions remain two of the only ways of addressing the most extreme forms of behaviour that our schools have to deal with. So it is with trepidation that we might look towards the new guidance and proposed legislation. What have they got in mind for us now? Here, I examine three important documents.

New regulations

The Education (Pupil Exclusions and Appeals) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (England) Regulations 2006 SI 2006/2189 replaces the 2002 legislation. The major changes include:

  • the requirement for all members and clerks of appeal panels to take part in appropriate training
  • changes to appeal hearings so that parents, headteachers, LAs and governing bodies must be allowed to appear, make oral and written representations  and be represented.

Revised guidance

The revised guidance Improving Behaviour and Attendance: Guidance on Exclusion from Schools and Pupil Referral Units September 2006 is not legislation but there is expectation that it will be followed unless there is a good reason why not. The guidance applies to all maintained schools and PRUs. The requirements of the regulations are included in the guidance. It also follows up some of the issues referred to by Learning Behaviour: The Report of the Practitioners’ Group on School Behaviour and Discipline. Recommendations include:

  • training for the members of and clerks to exclusion appeal panels as mandatory
  • that the headteacher may be  legally represented at an exclusion appeal hearing
  • the recommendation that the headteacher and governor members of an exclusion appeal panel be from the same type of school as the excluding school wherever possible
  • clearer guidance to panels (IAPs) on decision-making but without fettering their discretion
  • encouraging the pupil to have a voice in the exclusion procedure, if he and his parents wish
  • exclusions from PRUs – practical options for continuing education
  • stronger guidance discouraging unofficial exclusion
  • revised text on disabled pupils, removing pupils from school in exceptional circumstances and parallel criminal proceedings.

A readable document, it clearly outlines roles and responsibilities, describes processes and provides a strong steer on some issues. In particular it flags up:

  • the use of managed moves to prevent permanent exclusions
  • the role of the LA in securing movement and the use of local ‘panels’
  • finding alternative ways of supporting pupils and keeping them in mainstream
  • the illegality of children being sent home and ‘informal’ exclusions.

Managed moves

As a possible approach to minimise exclusion it is suggested that a headteacher may ask another headteacher to admit a pupil. However, there are catches to this. Everyone participating has to be in agreement. So the process must have the support of the parents, governors, LA and of course the participating schools.

Pupils at risk panels

These might also double up as ‘reintegration panels’. Panel members may coordinate services for pupils at risk of being excluded and/or are out of school. It is suggested that these panels might be made up of:

a) education welfare officers b) social services representatives c) educational psychologists d) staff from PRUs e) admissions, SEN policy staff, and staff with inclusion responsibility f) school staff, eg headteachers, pastoral support staff g) community representatives

h) representatives of other interest groups, including school workforce representatives.

It is acknowledged that having such a broad range of individuals might make a quick response to an exclusion difficult. It is suggested therefore that there might be core panels who make the immediate response and that the wider group monitor and review progress.

Alternative strategies

A major theme of the guidance is finding alternative strategies to support headteachers in not excluding children. Suggested strategies include:

  • PSPs
  • pupils at risk panels
  • multi-agency teams such as behaviour and education support teams
  • restorative justice
  • mediation
  • managed moves
  • internal exclusion.

Reference is also made to the use of parenting contracts where schools can work with a parent to devise a two-sided voluntary agreement. These outline what the parent will do and the support they will need.

Where parents refuse to engage with the school a parenting order might be an alternative. This is suggested when the exclusion is the second fixed-term exclusion within a 12-month period and the parent is unwilling to engage. An application has to be made to court in order to compel the parent to comply.

Schools are requested not to permanently exclude pupils with statements except in exceptional circumstances and to be particularly cautious in the case of looked-after children.

Informal exclusions

Many headteachers have been on the receiving end of an ‘informal exclusion’. A parent might contact the school to see if there is an available place. No mention is made of difficulties with behaviour although contact with previous schools might suggest some ‘mild incidents’ have occurred. Only in the fullness of time and when the pupil is on roll will it materialise that a stern warning from the previous head and suggestion that it might be in the pupil’s best interests to move on or else has instigated the move. By this time there is nothing you can do but curse a little.

But this is not the only kind of informal exclusion that the guidance protests against. Probably less popular with heads will be the warning about children who are ‘sent home’. This approach has sometimes been used in order to let things calm down where a child is close to exclusion. It can provide a breathing space for children and school although rarely solves the underlying problem. However, schools on the receiving end of challenging behaviour know how lack of real alternatives might push them to such action in order to keep their own sanity and allow other strategies to be sought.

The guidance reminds us that the only acceptable reasons for children to be off the school site include:

  • fixed period or permanent exclusion
  • where a serious criminal offence has been committed outside the school’s jurisdiction
  • where a pupil’s presence on the school site represents a serious risk to the health and safety of other pupils or school staff. This may only be done for medical reasons and after consultation with the pupil’s parents.

There are also warnings about the use of open-ended fixed-term exclusions (I suppose a contradiction in themselves). Headteachers have sometimes resorted to this in a bid to engage families and get them to agree, for example, that a child won’t be reinstated until a meeting has taken place or some other requirement has been met.

The Education and Inspections Bill

At the time of writing, (December 2006), the Education and Inspections Bill 2006 had still not received royal assent. It was published in February 2006 following the white paper Higher Standards, Better Schools For All. A major theme of this bill is the responsibility of schools and LAs to ensure the continued education of the child following exclusion.

According to the guidance described above, wherever an exclusion is more than a day long work should be set and marked. Where a headteacher is considering excluding a pupil for a long period of time eg for more than 15 school days, there should be agreement between the school and LA in terms of the educational arrangements that are to be made. It also suggests that schools might be expected to pick up some of the cost of this.

The proposals outlined in the bill would take this further still. It is intended that the bill will improve provision for excluded pupils with parents taking responsibility in the first five days. If parents do not ensure this is the case then a penalty notice might be issued. Following this, governing bodies and LAs will be required to provide full-time alternative provision from the sixth day of an exclusion ( clauses 93 and 94). In addition, reintegration interviews become compulsory for excluded pupils. This will also apply for fixed-periods of exclusion.

This legislation will have major implications for schools and LAs. Education of any kind can be very difficult to organise once a pupil is excluded. The process can be slow. Of course, it shouldn’t be and it has to be acknowledged that the longer a pupil is out of the school the more detrimental it is. But where and how will this education take place?

If the six-day guidance applies to accumulated fixed-term exclusions it could see one of the last props to be taken away from heads. Should we be adding to the pressure on the heads, who are often reluctant to exclude, by also waving the budget card? Now where was that cane?