The issue has been looked at in depth after an alarming spike sparked grave concerns among members of the county council’s family and services committee last year.
At its meeting this October, the final report by a task and finish group which looked into this problem was presented to the committee.
It includes views from schools and headteachers as well as other local authorities that have been successful in either reducing or maintaining low levels of exclusions and covers a range of issues and factors including special educational needs, early help and intervention, and the alternative provision currently available in Northumberland.
Director of education, Dean Jackson, explained at the time that ‘costed-up recommendations’ would be brought back to the committee at its November meeting, which took place on Thursday (28).
The exact cost of some of the 17 recommendations are still hazy, however, given that they will require some level of council officer and administration time and may also later result in a need for capital expenditure.
This is why Mr Jackson explained that the first recommendation – to create a group of headteachers and multi-agency staff to develop a Northumberland Strategic Inclusion Plan for 2020 to 2024 – is key.
Stephen Payne, one of the committee’s teaching union representatives, described recommendation 10, which calls for the creation of a partnership that offers early help and support for schools, as ‘critical’.
The latest figures for Northumberland show that the number of permanent and fixed-terms exclusions has now down from a spike last July.
However, when this work started last November, pupils had been permanently kicked out of schools in the county at an average rate of one a day during the first half-term of that academic year.
Over the previous three years, permanent exclusions had increased by 203 per cent and fixed-term exclusions by 209 per cent.
The report notes that while exclusions reduced in 2018-19, they are still ‘unacceptably high and, as in 2018-19, are likely to place the local authority in the lowest quartile nationally for exclusions’.
The recommendations are due to be put before the decision-making cabinet at a meeting in December.