Many schools have rethought their exclusion policies since the sixth day exclusion law was introduced in September 2007. Eileen Field explains the options now surrounding school exclusion
Overview of exclusion options
Single school solutions
Excluding pupils, whether for a fixed-term or permanently, is usually the last resort for dealing with difficult, disruptive or dangerous behaviour. A period spent out of school is designed to give the excluded pupil time to reflect away from the school environment. It also enables those pupils that remain in the classroom to learn free from the unsettling behaviour of their excluded colleague.
It is part of the headteacher’s remit to issue fixed-term and permanent exclusions to pupils where appropriate. However, governors also have an important part to play in the exclusions process. While it is the head’s duty to create the school’s exclusion policy and to issue fixed-term and permanent exclusions, it is the governing body’s obligation to approve the head’s strategy.
The exclusion law that came into force in September 2007 has encouraged many schools to rethink their exclusion policies. As we know, the law states that schools are obliged to provide ‘suitable, full-time education’ from the sixth school day of fixed-term exclusion. Likewise, from the sixth day of a permanent exclusion, local authorities must arrange education which fits the same criteria. How a school provides this education is left to a school’s senior management team but as long as it equates to 25 hours of education a week in some supervised form they are considered to be fulfilling their legal obligation.
Alongside the introduction of the new exclusion law in 2007 there has been a transfer of responsibility for managing exclusions from local authorities to schools. With the transfer of responsibility has come a transfer of some budget. As a result, many schools now have more control over the treatment of and the budget for each child registered on the school roll.
In addition, on many governors’ minds is the opportunity to change the status of their school to that of a trust school. Being a trust school entitles an establishment to the benefits of foundation status with the additional input from the trustees, who hold the land and buildings for the school.
Secondary schools are most likely to be considering the change to reap the advantages of greater collaborative working that is offered by trust status. This may mean closer partnering with a local FE college or even with other local secondary schools to share facilities and resources in anticipation of the new 14–19 pathways and diplomas. However, there are benefits of being part of a trust school for exclusion policies as well.
The sixth day cover exclusion law has led to an approach which focuses on inclusion and keeping children in school, rather than exclusion. There are various models which enable schools to comply with this law. Some involve schools working alone, others have formed where schools work together in clusters, or under trust status, to reduce the expenditure per school on managing exclusions as the strategy, resources and costs can all be shared.
Whilst it can be difficult to implement a collaborative strategy, the bespoke solution favoured by schools working in isolation can prove more costly. Governors and school leaders need to decide which provision solution is the most appropriate for their school in their area, taking budget, number of annual exclusions and other factors into consideration.
The breadth of alternative provision for exclusions is considerable; the difficulty comes when deciding which to choose for your school. Below are some examples of how schools across the UK currently deal with inclusion.
Exclusions of six days or over from maintained secondary schools in England in 2005-06
A managed move is the process of removing a pupil from one school’s roll and placing them on another in the same area, avoiding a permanent exclusion on the child’s school record and offering a fresh start. Typically, several schools will share the responsibility for these pupils; there will not be one dedicated school for them.
The process of managed moves is likely to become easier for federated trust schools. Simplified, schools work in a pre-agreed manner where each school under the agreement takes its share of these ‘managed move’ students. Realistically, there are likely to be some establishments in each cluster who see this procedure as a nuisance, particularly when they have low exclusion figures themselves and may have limited resources and few staff who are able to cope with difficult pupils, and so resistance needs to be managed carefully across the group.
While effective at keeping the number of permanent exclusions on a school’s record low, similar problems can recur in the receiving school. Therefore, instead of being solved, problems are simply shifted from one school to another.
Despite this risk, managed moves can make a great difference to the dynamics of a class. In some situations, removing the ‘leader of the pack’ means that a disruptive group will disintegrate and, by the removal of one pupil, a whole group of children may benefit.
Another way for schools to work collaboratively is to create a cluster of establishments, all of which share the same exclusion policy. Typically, one school will house an inclusion unit, or learning support centre (LSC), which will play host to pupils at risk of exclusion from any of the cluster schools.
As cluster schools will pool their inclusion budget, high quality alternative provision can be resourced with lower expenditure from each individual school. Therefore students within the unit are likely to have better access to a wider range of teaching resources and possibly more individual staff attention.
Individual school solutions
Learning support centres
For schools that want greater control, working alone can be the best option. As in cluster schools, to retain students on roll they could consider implementing their own school inclusion unit or learning support centre (LSC). The LSC will often be used to manage fixed-term exclusions, offering a pupil a last chance and an alternative to a permanent release from school.
The model of LSC will vary greatly from school to school. The unit will typically be run by one of the school’s teachers with a team of teaching assistants who oversee work undertaken in the unit. However, there may often be a range of ages and abilities in the unit and it can be difficult to provide specialist teaching to all pupils that goes above a basic level.
Some inclusion units, particularly those run by individual schools with limited funds, simply supply worksheets and textbook page references, which keeps students occupied and allows them to keep pace with their mainstream peers. However, for an exclusion of more than a few days, this can be insufficient. For this reason, some schools have looked to outsourced solutions which can provide full-time education with reduced teaching supervision.
Increasingly popular is the online school solution which enables schools to fulfil the requirement of 25 hours of education a week while ensuring that every hour counts. For this solution, pupils in the LSC log on and learn at the online school and can study a full timetable of core curriculum subjects, including homework, throughout the school week.
Pupils can access the online school from the LSC or home (via a broadband connection) and communicate with their subject specialist teachers verbally, via instant messaging and through an interactive online whiteboard. The online classroom is a flexible environment that allows teachers to make use of web tours, application sharing and other tools to create engaging lessons.
One of the less obvious benefits of the online school is that it offers pupils a high degree of control over their learning environment – they choose how, when and with whom they communicate – and a level of anonymity that allows them to reinvent themselves.
This means that the online school can often be a bridge for pupils back into the mainstream environment, both from a social and educational point of view. If reintegration is an option, pupils will have kept up-to-speed in the core subjects and the process of reintegration should be far more straightforward after spending some time at the ‘school-within-school’.
Zero exclusion policy In reaction to fines imposed on schools for permanent exclusions by some local authorities, a number of schools have opted to try to eliminate permanent exclusions, avoiding the sixth day cover law altogether. However, this is not a simple option and is likely to require a significant investment in resources to support behavioural problems within
Five day exclusions
Sitting between the zero exclusion policy and full compliance with the sixth day cover law is the use of five day exclusions. In this case, schools avoid having fixed-term exclusions which go into the sixth day.
The problem with this system is that such a short time away from the classroom for the more serious cases can do little to remedy a pupil’s behaviour and the school may eventually need to look to a lengthier exclusion. Therefore, having planned provision in place for the inevitable situations is vital too.
The autumn term is a good time to plan or revise an inclusion policy. By the spring term, students who have not settled in the classroom are likely to be looking at an alternative to mainstream having failed the school’s intervention in the form of a Pastoral Support Programme.
Particularly at KS4 when students are preparing for GCSEs, the pressure to resolve the impact of disruptive students is even higher. Therefore, the autumn term is the perfect opportunity to think through the different inclusion solutions that are available and begin to put them in place.
Eileen Field has been involved in education for 16 years. She is currently a governor at Birchwood High School in Hertfordshire and headteacher of the online school, Accipio Learning. Previously, Eileen held senior leadership positions in schools as well as head of year and head of faculty posts