Just before Easter the DfE published a research brief about a trial programme into dealing with school exclusions entitled: Evaluation of the School Exclusion Trial: Responsibility for Alternative Provision for Permanently Excluded Children – First Interim Report Brief. The report can be found at: https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/standard/publicationDetail/Page1/DFE-RB284
Reducing the number of exclusions could have an impact on both schools and society in general since many of the young people who fall into criminal behaviour as teenagers were excluded from school at some point in their education: often during the last few years of formal education when exclusions are at their highest in relation to the school population.
Although the trial is relatively small scale and still in the early stages it has produced some interesting findings. However, the authors of the report suggest that most of the issues raised during the baseline research phase were not directly related to the trial but concerned issues related to Alternative Provision (AP) that is often used with pupils at risk of exclusion.
The issues included:
-the shrinking of the AP market currently underway;
– problems in rural areas where the possibilities for managed moves and AP were limited
because of geographical location;
-managing changes in demand and requests for increased flexibility when AP providers may
have limited capacity;
-providing AP providers with regular income, particularly when they are not operating in
highly populated urban areas, to ensure stability of provision and high quality staff;
-the current lack of AP at Key Stage 3; and
-the availability of AP at Level 2.
Some issues, which may impact on the trial, but are not directly related to it, concerned schools.
-the difficulty of engaging some parents;
-the need to improve intervention in primary schools to address underlying serious
behavioural problems early on; and
-ensuring that schools have sufficient accommodation to be able to provide a range of in school provision on and off-site.
Two issues were identified which directly relate to the implementation of the trial. These are:
-ensuring that schools have the capacity and expertise to commission, manage and monitor AP;
-increasing the extent of early intervention at the first sign of difficulties.
At their heart, many of these issues relate to the extent that the schools are separate entities or part of a system of schooling responsible for the education of all children whose parents want to trust the State with the education of their children. In the muddle that is our school system at present this issue is important to deal with if schools are to be able to feel confident about helping challenging pupils. One solution is to commission the market to provide AP services over a wide area, or even nationally, and leave the contractors to identify how to allocate resources and still make a profit while meeting service levels. Cash could be recouped from schools that made use of the service.
However, this doesn’t deal with the issue of prevention at the in-school level, especially at the primary school where these problems often first manifest themselves. As the research report identifies, finding a way of providing early intervention is important. Such early investment may be a good investment, but will require co-ordination and support for schools. Ministers might want to start thinking this through in time to have some policies ready when the final report appears around the time of the general election. One policy might be to ensure better professional development for primary teachers whose initial training is so crowded that at present it leaves scant room for more than basic behaviour management techniques. There is also the issue of how far parents can exploit their child’s rights to avoid facing up to difficulties when they arise in a school
This trial is an important look at an area too often neglected by policy-makers and it is to be hoped it will attract the attention of Ministers since behaviour is too often quoted as a reason teachers feel demoralised and want to leave the profession.