Tackling exclusion rates at Northumberland schools as level remains 'unacceptably high’

‘Costed-up recommendations’ to deal with the issue of school exclusions in Northumberland will be presented to councillors next month.

Saturday, 5th October 2019, 8:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 8th October 2019, 3:23 pm
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As previously reported, the number of permanent and fixed-terms exclusions has now come down from a spike last year.

Last November, we revealed that pupils were 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. So far this term, there have been five in five weeks.

Over the previous three years, permanent exclusions had increased by 203 per cent and fixed-term exclusions by 209 per cent, but the trend has reversed since then.

Following work starting on this issue after members of the county council’s family and children’s services committee expressed grave concerns, the number of permanent exclusions has reduced by 28 per cent and the number of fixed-term exclusions by 26 per cent.

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However, a report by a task and finish group which looked into this problem, notes that the numbers ‘are still unacceptably high’ and ‘likely to place the local authority in the lowest quartile nationally for exclusions’.

The detailed report, which was discussed at the committee’s meeting on October 3, 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.

It covers a range of issues and factors including special educational needs, early help and intervention, and the alternative provision currently available in Northumberland.

Coun Mark Swinburn, who chaired the task and finish group, said: “There’s no single, simple fix to this issue.”

The report sets out that the ‘Northumberland Approach’ to managing exclusions will need ‘a clear moral purpose and an agreed overarching strategy that makes it clear that exclusions are everyone’s problem in Northumberland’.

It will also require ‘financial realism’, a ‘robust core purpose, supported by agreed regulation and fair processes’ and ‘urgent and driving actions to create a coherent core offer of support that schools subscribe to’.

Director of education, Dean Jackson, explained that ‘costed-up recommendations’ would be brought back to the committee at its November meeting.

This could well include a change in funding arrangements, as the report notes that a ‘perverse incentive exists to permanently exclude a pupil and to then have that pupil’s alternative provision costs funded centrally by the High Needs Block rather than pay for preventative alternative provision from the school’s own budget’.

Referring to a line in the report about headteachers saying that cuts to youth services were a factor, Coun Deirdre Campbell said: “Everything going on around the country seems to be linked to cuts to youth services. I wish governments of all colours would look at it more seriously.

“However much money you pour into it (reducing exclusions), you need to deal with the underlying problems.”

But Coun Wayne Daley, the cabinet member for children’s services, claimed this was the ‘perception’ of headteachers, as Northumberland County Council had ‘kept its youth service unlike other authorities in the North East’.