Recent figures from the DfE* showing data relating to exclusions by schools in 2011/12 reveal a picture where exclusions are happily still lower than a few years ago. Sadly, the downward trend of the past few years has been reversed and, particularly in the primary sector, there has been an increase in exclusions. However, who you are, and where you live, still plays an important part in your risk of being excluded. Boys aged 14, from an Irish Traveller heritage background, and living in one of the most socially deprived parts of the England will face many of the risk factors associated with membership of one of the groups more likely to be excluded: boys are far more likely to be excluded than girls. This isn’t to say that every boy meeting these criteria will be excluded, but for some the risk may well be greater than for others with different profiles. However, by diagnosing the groups most at risk, schools can often put policies in place to minimise the need for exclusions.
For some reason the Hampshire Coast has a reputation for containing special schools with above average rates of fixed term exclusions. This year, The Isle of Wight, Southampton and Portsmouth fill three of the four top spots for fixed term exclusions from special schools. Brighton and Hove comes two places lower. Whether there is something about the sea air, or it is the fact that they are all relatively small authorities with large areas of deprivation isn’t clear from the statistics. The Isle of Wight Council received a stern letter from Ofsted this week for a failure to effect school improvement policies on the island. No doubt Southampton and Portsmouth will also have to convince the inspectors that it isn’t their fault that so many of their most challenging children are disruptive.
Southampton and the Isle of Wight also take the top two places in the secondary school list of authorities where schools have the highest levels of fixed term exclusions, although in this case Portsmouth and Brighton and Hove are lower down the table, but both are still uncomfortably near the top. Hartlepool and South Tyneside, again small coastal authorities, have the lowest levels of fixed term exclusions in both the secondary and special school lists.
Reading, Medway and Portsmouth top the primary sector list, with Tower Hamlets and Richmond upon Thames having the lowest percentages of fixed term exclusions in the primary sector.
As a councillor, I am especially concerned that Oxfordshire is in the top third for secondary school fixed term exclusions, and has above average levels of such exclusions from the special school sector.
Since behaviour management is the topic many new teachers often cite needing more of during their preparation courses some attention might be paid to how they are trained to deal with behaviour leading up to exclusions especially since many of these fixed-term exclusions are for persistent disruptive behaviour. However, it will be interesting to see how the changes to the 14-18 curriculum will affect exclusions among the most numerous group of excludees, boys in that age bracket. Will Science, technology and vocational schools help re-engage these young men with the purpose of education or just add a further stopping point on the road that for too many leads to a life of anti-social behaviour and, too often, crime.
But it is the primary sector, with its rapidly increasing pupil numbers, that should concern policy-makers the most. The reasons for exclusion of these younger children need to be considered, and any feedback on what can help prevent them being excluded should be circulated to all concerned. If necessary, more emphasis on understanding disruptive behaviour will need to become a part of teacher preparation programmes, especially if it is shown that new teachers face unacceptably high levels of disruption without all the skills necessary to deal with them.