Reflections on the Education Committee’s AP inquiry
“We can keep building pupil referral units (PRUs) to accommodate children with different needs but when, as a nation, do we ask the question, “how ‘normal’ do you have to be for mainstream?” – Jules Daulby, Director of Education for Driver Youth Trust
On 17th April, Driver Youth Trust’s Director of Education, Jules Daulby gave evidence to the Education Committee to help inform their inquiry on Alternative Provision. The Committee monitors the policy, administration and spending of the Department for Education and since September they have been exploring Alternative Provision (AP) with a particular emphasis on the routes into AP.
You can read DYT’s written evidence to the committee here.
Note: Our view is that exclusions for knives, drugs and assault are needed.
However, many exclusions are for ‘persistent disruptive behaviour’ (34.6% of all permanent exclusions) and disproportionately affect those with SEND (7 times more likely to receive a permanent exclusion than pupils with no SEN), boys who are black Caribbean (three times more likely to be permanently excluded) and the travelling community (the highest rates of both permanent and fixed period exclusions). Read the government’s statistics here.
Driver Youth Trust’s position at the Education Select Committee’s inquiry into AP is that more emphasis should be put on prevention and inclusion rather than reaction and segregation. AP is the right place for some children and young people but more should be spent on early identification of language difficulties, continued support for learners who struggle with literacy in mainstream schools and better systems to incentivise inclusion where all learners can be valued.
Early intervention and prevention of exclusions is vital and DYT want to place emphasis on children who have speech, language and communication needs when considering education provision. Children may have language difficulties in KS1, literacy difficulties in KS2 and behaviour difficulties in KS3. Investment in these young people, who are over-represented in exclusions and later in the prison population, is vital and we will in the long term save high costs to both individuals and society.
We heard similar evidence from fellow panel members, each giving a similar narrative despite different experiences. Marion Gillooly described a Scottish perspective where the default position is inclusion and support; there are negligible figures for exclusions in Scotland in comparison to the 35 a day in England. In fact, they don’t even use the vocabulary of exclusion. The direction of Scotland’s education system which is to accommodate most children in mainstream schools is very different to the trajectory England is taking by creating more alternative provisions and accepting a rise in exclusion as a necessary pipeline to allow functioning schools.
Louise Gazely talked of her findings from the research for the Office for Children’s Commissioner. Much emphasis was put on the importance of a collective responsibility for communities and how working with families was an essential element in support for children.
Before the committee began, we had a fascinating discussion on children marginalised from the system. Louise mentioned that policy rarely talked about how the children being excluded were the parents of the future. If we give them nothing what can society expect? The cycle continues. Marion gave an insight into Scotland which seems to be streets ahead of England regarding community support for families. England may talk the talk on social mobility, but Scotland seems to be living it. Numbers of young people leaving school with a positive destination are increasing says Marion, and those entering the youth justice system is decreasing. Early intervention is not the cure she emphasised and continual investment is required to allow for success.
Such funds and resources appear to be scarcer now than previously in English schools and many consider this to be a contributing factor in the rising exclusion figures and ever-increasing waiting lists for PRUs. Nine out of ten children with SEND are in the mainstream education system and the majority should be able to flourish in their local community school. Are we setting children up to fail due to a lack of funds? And letting down those who require education the most and who have the fewest resources available to them? IPPR figures suggest this costs £370000 per excluded child. If we have 35 children permanently excluded per day, that is £12,950,000. Imagine if even half of this money was invested in mainstream schools, ringfenced to support inclusion?
Robert Halfon MP suggests a Bill of Rights for children which would protect families who are not receiving an education. Driver Youth Trust supports this recommendation and see parent partnership as part of the solution to inclusive practices in schools.
Pupil Referral Units and other forms of alternative provision need to concentrate on those who have the most complex needs, yet their work is being hampered by catering for children who really shouldn’t be there. What are the solutions?
Driver Youth Trust has the following recommendations they would like the Education Select Committee to consider:
- The inquiry must address the fundamental link between SEND, Exclusions and Alternative Provision and recognise that inclusive schools exclude fewer children. Prevention rather than reaction should always be the priority and permanent exclusion leading to an AP setting should always be the last resort, not the first thought.
- There should be a dedicated literacy and language specialist teacher and assessor in every AP school, who should also work across mainstream schools to prevent exclusions wherever possible. All learners at risk of exclusion should be given a multi-agency assessment for an underlying SEND as early as possible, led by the school.
- An analysis of why SEND learners are over-represented in PRUs must be a key priority for the committee’s inquiry, especially those on SEND support and those with unidentified needs. The government needs to scrutinise this data from individual schools to identify those playing the system.
- The committee should investigate ways to incentivise schools to support SEND learners and be as inclusive as possible. To ensure that schools have no incentive to exclude pupils on the grounds of attainment, they should be retained on the school roll up until Year 11 with full responsibility for that pupil’s outcomes. The Department for Education should introduce an annual SEND award with a prize to celebrate schools that make effective and creative use of SEND funding. Ring-fencing SEND funding would go a long way to ensuring it is spent appropriately and where needed.
Quick glance at Driver Youth Trust’s recommendations
- Early intervention and identification
- Access to specialists
- Recognition of language and literacy difficulties
- Rewarding schools for being inclusive
- Transparency on data for exclusions (including unofficial, managed moves and off rolling)
- Prevention rather than reaction
- Parent partnership and regional responsibility for children