Sunday, May 19, 2024

Excluded pupils are being failed by education system, says MP for Harlow Robert Halfon

THE ‘ever increasing’ number of pupils excluded from school in England are being left abandoned to a forgotten part of the education system—alternative provision—which too often fails to give them the education they deserve, says the Education Committee in a report published today.

The report expresses concerns about the over-exclusion of pupils and at the ‘alarming’ increase in ‘hidden exclusions’ where children are internally isolated, or informally excluded.

The Committee recommends a series of measures which can act as a ‘Bill of Rights’ for pupils and their parents to help combat the existing lack of information and rights which currently act as “an obstacle to social justice and the educational ladder of opportunity”. The report finds there is a “lack of moral accountability” on the part of many schools with no incentive to, or deterrent to not, retain pupils who could be classed as difficult or challenging.

Amid concerns about ‘off-rolling’ and the impact of Progress 8, the report makes a number of recommendations to ensure schools are more accountable for excluded children. The report calls on the Government to reform the weighting of Progress 8 and other accountability measures to take account of every pupil who had spent time at a school, in proportion to the amount of time they spent there. The report also recommends the Government and Ofsted introduce an inclusion measure to incentivise schools to be more inclusive and for schools to publish more information about their permanent and fixed-term exclusion rates.

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee and MP for Harlow, said: “Today, we face the scandal of ever-increasing numbers of children being excluded and being left abandoned to a forgotten part of our education system which too often fails to deliver good outcomes for these young people.


“As a Committee we are dedicated to social justice, to helping young people climb the ladder of opportunity. The young people who are excluded are the forgotten children. Many already face a host of challenges, with children in care, children in need, children with SEND, and children in poverty, being far more likely to end up in alternative provision (AP). They deserve the best possible support but often they don’t get the education that they need to thrive.

“Parents and pupils face a system which isn’t designed for their needs, too often being left to a Wild West of exclusions with too many pupils in AP who shouldn’t be there, and those who are there not receiving the right support or the early intervention needed to make a difference to their lives.

“We need a Bill of Rights for parents and pupils who access alternative provision and they deserve someone in their corner to be their champion during the often-difficult process of trying to get the best possible support. We need much better provision, with teachers being encouraged to work in AP, and we need to strip away some of the stigma by renaming PRUs and genuinely seeing them as places for education, learning and support.

“During our inquiry, we heard about outstanding provision and dedicated staff, and from pupils who are thriving in their alternative settings. However, as a Committee we are concerned that this is too variable – all pupils should be able to experience high quality provision that meets their needs and right to an education.

“From the range of evidence we heard in our inquiry, it’s clear that reform is necessary to make sure that schools are accountable for these children. Schools which do seek to do the most for these children shouldn’t be penalised by an accountability system which acts as a disincentive to efforts which could have a transformative impact on young people’s lives.

“Children in alternative provision are the forgotten children and we hope that this report shines a light on this part of our education system. This provision has been forgotten by Governments of all stripes for far too long. We look forward to the results of Edward Timpson’s review but change has to start now. The writing is on the wall, now is the time to act.”

The Committee’s report finds it surprising that the increase in the participation age to 18 was not accompanied by statutory duties to provide post-16 alternative provision. The Committee calls upon the Government to allocate resources to ensure that local authorities and providers can provide post-16 support to pupils, either in the form of outreach and support to colleges or by providing their own post-16 alternative provision.


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