An accident of birth

There is an interesting parliamentary procedure called a ‘Ten Minute Rule Bill’ that allows MPs to raise subjects they deem to be important, but that are not currently part of the legislative process. In some ways it is like a junior version of a Private Members’ Bill, but with even less chance of success.

Yesterday, a Bill was presented in the House of Commons with support from all three of the main political parties in England. This was the Criminal Records (Childhood Offences) Bill, presented by its sponsor, the Conservative MP, Theresa Villiers.

In her speech about the aims of the Bill, Teresa Villiers said,

‘A key problem is that we have no distinct criminal records system for children. Apart from some limited differences providing for slightly shorter rehabilitation periods and other timeframes, children are subject to the full rigours of the disclosure system that I have outlined. Records relating to under-18 offences are retained for life. I believe that the childhood criminal records system in England and Wales is anchoring children to their past and preventing them from moving on from their mistakes. It is acting as a barrier to employment, education and housing. It is therefore working against rehabilitation, undermining a core purpose of the youth justice system. The current rules also perpetuate inequality. The Government’s race disparity audit concluded that ​children from a black and minority ethnic background are sadly more likely to end up with a criminal record. A system that is unduly penal in its treatment of such records has a harder and more disproportionate effect on BME communities. Similar points can be made about children who have spent time in care.’ https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2018-10-10/debates/1205F56C-ECAF-4272-81F7-BA1E629CA816/CriminalRecords(ChildhoodOffences)

I entirely agree. In September 2009, almost a decade ago, I wrote a piece for the TES in my regular column at that time. It was headed 93,601 – the number of 10-17 year olds gaining their first criminal record. https://www.tes.com/news/93601-number-10-17-year-olds-gaining-first-criminal-record

In that TES piece, I pointed out that some 700,000 young people gained a criminal record between 2000 and early 2008; not including those handed a caution or other out of court disposal. Fortunately, attitudes to dealing with petty offending have moved on from the days of Labour’s target culture and in 2016-17 there were just 49,000 proceedings against young people either in a court or by way of cautions for an admitted offence. This is still way too high, but half the level of a decade ago. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/676072/youth_justice_statistics_2016-17.pdf

Those children from a decade ago are now adults, but as I said in 2009, and Theresa Villier’s Bill sought to highlight, they carry the stigma of being an offender with them into their adult life. Not only must they declare it on an enhanced disclosure for a job as say, a teacher, but it can also affect their ability to travel to some countries that require visas, such as the United States.

My solution was that any summary offence, and most either way offences, including theft, should be removed from the record after a period of say five years free of offending.

I hope that the government will find time to either insert a clause in an appropriate piece of legislation or take up this Ten Minute Rule Bill and provide parliamentary time for it to proceed. Carrying a criminal record for the rest of your life should not be a matter of when you were born, but of the severity of your criminal behaviour.

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Crime and a lack of learning

During the summer, the Ministry of Justice published a report called ‘A Sporting Chance: An Independent Review of Sport in Youth and Adult Prisons’ by Professor Rosie Meek. You can access the report at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/733184/a-sporting-chance-an-independent-review-sport-in-justice.pdf

I have only just caught up with reading the report, but what struck me forcibly was the following paragraph:

Those in custody are likely to have disrupted and negative experiences of learning prior to incarceration, and to lack confidence in their learning abilities. A recent data-matching exercise between the Ministry of Justice and Department for Education* showed that of the young people sentenced to custody in 2014, 90% have a previous record of persistent absence from school and almost a quarter of those sentenced to less than 12 months in custody have been permanently excluded from school. In terms of achievement, only 1% of those sentenced to less than 12 months achieved 5 or more GCSES (or equivalents) graded A* – C including English and Maths. Furthermore, illustrating the over-representation of people who have been in both the care system and the criminal justice system, 31% of those sentenced to custody for 12 months or longer, and 27% of those sentenced to custody for less than 12 months had been in the care of a local authority.

* MoJ/DfE (2016). Understanding the Educational Background of Young Offenders: Joint Experimental Statistical Report from the Ministry of Justice and Department for Education.

There is a powerful message here to schools that don’t have a credible policy for dealing with their challenging pupils, other than excluding them from school. We need to work together for the good of society. The DfE needs to ensure there is a coherent curriculum, including English and mathematics, but not necessarily the rest of the English Baccalaureate for pupils that can use these subjects to retain their place as learners. There is a space for sport and other non-classroom based subjects in the curriculum.

The message that education is for all also needs to be firmly inculcated at the start of all teacher preparation courses. Perhaps the Secretary of State might like to break with tradition and issue a message of hope and encouragement to all starting on their journey to become a teacher this September. With his background on the Education Select Committee and work with the APPG, the Secretary of State is well placed to remind new entrants, and indeed the whole profession, of the need to provide as teachers and school leaders for the needs of all our young people.

Happily, we no longer lock up more than 3,000 under-18s, as was the case a decade ago, but even a thousand is too many. It is clear that finding ways of investing in all our young people can help reduce offending and alienation. As I have said before on this blog, a start could be made by ensuring all young people taken into care do not suffer a break in their education. A place on roll of an education institution within fourteen days of being taken into care should be the requirement for all and schools should be willing to cooperate.

 

Courts support the underdog

From time to time the courts become involved in changing the direction of the education system in England. One such occasion, discussed previously on this blog, was the judgement of the Supreme Court on the issue of holidays during term-time. That judgement has redefined the contract for parents that ask or allow the State to educate their children in a more prescriptive manner than many might have thought possible.

Recently, there have been two more important judgements, albeit from lower courts, below the level of the Supreme Court. The Upper Tribunal, a court in all but name, as it interprets the law, has handed down what has been described as a landmark judgement in the treatment of pupils with SEND that involves a degree of aggressive behaviour linked to their disability: in this case autism. The case has been well reported, but you can read about it at https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/our-work/news/landmark-ruling-exclusion-disabled-pupils-schools

The case was brought under Section 28 of the Equality Act 2006 and the implications arising from the judgement should be on the agenda of governing bodies during the autumn term. The issue will turn on what are ‘reasonable adjustments’ that a school can be expected to make in educating these children. Obviously, or I suspect obviously, a special school catering exclusively for children with aggressive tendencies might be expect to make more adjustments than a small rural primary school faced with a five year old with such tendencies. However, if the five year old is living successfully in the community, the school is a part of the community and must now make clear what adjustment sit has made to deal with the education of the child. This might mean more specific training for the class teacher and any classroom assistants encountering the child in the course of their work. It might also mean dinner supervisors; office staff and anyone likely to come into contact with the pupil also receiving training.

The other recent case concerned Bristol City and its role in providing special education. The case was primarily about the issue of consultation over possible cuts to the City’s SEND budget, but the judge strayed into the area of the financing of education. You can read the whole judgement at https://specialneedsjungle.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/KE-others-v-Bristol-City-Council-Approvedjudgment.pdf As with the previous case, fairness for minority groups played a large part in the arguments before the court and in the reasoning of the judge. I can foresee more challenges in this area about cuts to SEND transport, based upon this judgement.

However, there was a rather curious exchange about the funding of education by local authorities that is reported in the judgement that suggests that it is not only in the realm of understanding popular culture and music that some judges and indeed other members of the bar may be slightly out of touch with currently realities.

Take this extract from the judgement from paragraph 98:

  1. Mr Tully explained that ‘The overall principle which the Council is seeking to follow is the principle that, if possible, the DSG (Dedicated Schools Grant) should pay for Schools Budget responsibilities.

However, as Ms Richards Q.C. correctly points out, this a simply a principle which the Defendant has chosen to follow i.e. a political choice and not a statutory requirement. As a consequence, it could be abandoned or varied, most pertinently in light of the results of appropriate consultation.

Surely, the DSG and the High Needs Block isn’t open to virement and by implication also isn’t open to being supplemented should local authorities ever find themselves with an excess of cash or indeed required to make choices about how they spend their income. If this section of the judgement is regarded as ‘obiter’ then it doesn’t matter, as it can be ignored, one would not want to raise the hopes of parents and others that the DSG is just an addition to a local authority overall income stream and not as its says, a ‘Dedicated Schools Grant’. Schools forum need to be consulted about the distribution of the DSG. How far is there also a need to consult the wider public?

The situation is of course complicated by the fact that some education expenditure, including on home to school transport, is provided for not from the DGS and High Needs Block within it, but from the general grant to local authorities and must compete with other services for its share of the cake. Here is issue is a fight for resources subject to the decision of the ruling group on any Council and is clearly subject to the need for consultation with the public and interested groups.

The person on the Clapham Omnibus, or is it in the Uber car these days, must be able to understand the logic behind the funding of our education system, lest they be deceived into thinking some things are possible that are actually not the case.

Despite some politicians feeling about European Courts, the courts and civil law plays an important part in defending liberties. At this time of financial cut backs it is also sometimes the way that minority groups can ensure that they are treated fairly.

 

 

Why teachers are banned

The BBC has published an interesting analysis of the number of teachers barred from the profession over the past few years. You can read Laurence Cawley’s story at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-44643267

Creating such a story has been on the list for future posts on this blog, after I commented in December 2016 about the trends in hearing for misconduct by teachers that year. You can read that blog at https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2016/12/

As I pointed out in 2016, men outnumber women in terms of those coming before the Teaching Regulation Agency and also in being barred from teaching and work with young people either for a fixed period or for life. Those barred for a fixed period do not automatically regain the right to teach but, as teaching is still not a reserved occupational term, may presumably still call themselves a teacher if they want to do so. Whether they can work in the less regulated markets of teaching language students or tutoring is an interesting question and how they would be found out if they do so is also a potential issue for debate.

The rules on conduct between teachers and pupils are now very strict and what was acceptable when I started in teaching in the 1970s would now in some cases almost certainly be grounds for being barred for life from the profession. The BBC story says sexually motivated, inappropriate conduct is the reason for a third of teaching bans and goes into some details that you can read on their site by following the link above.

London has the lowest rate of barring per 10,000 teachers. This is possibly because there are a higher percentage of young and more recently trained teachers in London and they are aware of the tightening of the rules, especially in relation to conduct between teachers and their pupils.

I believe that the police still have the responsibility to report anyone who states their occupation as a teacher, if they are involved in a criminal act.  Some of the alcohol cases will have come about because of a drink driving charge, sometimes during the Christmas holiday period.

The BBC story doesn’t look into the trends in severity of outcomes in terms of length or bans received. There is a study to be undertaken to ensure that panels are consistent in their general approach even after acknowledging that the facts of each case are unique.

Requiring high standards of those that are teachers is obviously important and I hope that rigorous checks at the application stage prevent some from entering the profession. That’s one reason why I have always believed that interviews of potential applicants to teaching is a critical part of the process: mere study of a form is not good enough.

A number of the cases in the BBC story were historical in nature when dealt with and it is to be hoped that the caseload of the Agency will fall as more teachers recognise the requirement laid upon them and the standards they need to uphold. However, if an MP can only be banned for 30 days for a failure to declare two holidays, we need to ensure that teachers are not being punished more severely for their transgressions than our lawmakers.

 

Bad news on exclusions

Exclusions from school rose again in 2016-17, confirming the upward trend in exclusions that commenced in 2013/14, in both the primary and secondary sectors. Exclusion rates are still falling in the special school sector for permanent exclusions although they seemed to have stopped falling for fixed term exclusions. DfE Data for 2016-17 was published today at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/permanent-and-fixed-period-exclusions-in-england-2016-to-2017

In terms of trends, there doesn’t seem to be a lot that is new. Years 9-11 are the key danger points where a pupil, usually a boy and more likely with certain other characteristics in terms of ethnicity, free school meals and probably attainment, is likely to reach the end of the road as far as the school is concerned and end up being excluded. How hard schools try to deal with these pupils is shown by the fact that despite the worsening of Pupil Teacher Ratios, Persistent Disruptive Behaviour remained the most common reason for permanent and fixed-term exclusions. Such persistent disruptive behaviour accounted for 2,755 (35.7 per cent) of all permanent exclusions in 2016/17. This is equivalent to 3 permanent exclusions per 10,000 pupils and was up from 2,310 the previous year. Few pupils still seem to be excluded for single dramatic events compared with those where schools have struggled to contain poor behaviour over a period of time.

However, there were rises in permanent exclusions in almost all categories except for bullying, although the numbers in that group are too small to be confident of a real reduction, especially as fixed term exclusions for this reason did increase over last year’s figure.

There is considerable variation in the permanent and fixed period exclusion rate at local authority level. The regions with the highest overall rates of permanent exclusion across state-funded primary, secondary and special schools were the West Midlands and the North West (at 0.14 per cent). The regions with the lowest rates were the South East (at 0.06 per cent) and Yorkshire and the Humber (at 0.07 per cent). However, the region with the highest fixed period exclusion rate was Yorkshire and the Humber (at 7.22 per cent), whilst the lowest rate were in Outer London (3.49 per cent). These regions also had the highest and lowest rates of exclusion in the previous academic year.

The upward trend in exclusions in the primary sector is especially worrying, especially the increase in permanent exclusions, albeit they remain at a very low rate. As the primary school population peaks and then starts to reduce in number, it is to be hoped that exclusion will also start to fall. Better use of Education and Health Care Plans rather than exclusions might also be beneficial, especially if the NHS can start to recognise children where early intervention might assist in their education and social behaviour in schools.

The rate of fixed period exclusions across all state-funded primary, secondary and special schools increased from 4.29 per cent to per cent of pupil enrolments in 2015/16 to 4.76 per cent in 2016/17, which is equivalent to around 476 pupils per 10,000. However, this is still well below for the early years of the century. High levels of exclusions in those years also resulted in record numbers of young offenders being locked up in prisons. We must not return to those levels that were one of the more disappointing outcomes of that period in the nation’s education history.

 

More National Schools

It seems as if the government has decided that the next wave of free schools are going to be created in the worst-performing areas of England, particularly the North East. Officials are apparently to establish the next wave of about 35 new schools in the bottom third of lowest-performing areas, according to the BBC. Since this is a part of England where pupil rolls are generally either static or not rising as much as elsewhere, such a move will have a disproportionate effect on the budgets of other schools now that there is a common funding formula. I am sure that the DfE will take this factor into account in their planning.

In the past few weeks there have been a number of parliamentary questions about both free schools and academies. The government revealed that between 2013/14 and 2017/18 eight free schools had closed and another will close in the summer of 2018. Interestingly, one of the early closures, The Durham Free School, was located in the North East, where the government is now looking to create their new wave of such schools.

Alongside the closed free schools, there are 14 academy sponsors that to use the DfE jargon are ‘paused’. According to the Minister in an answer to a parliamentary question, an academy sponsor is paused if any or all of the following conditions exist:

  • significant concerns with educational impact;
  • serious financial concerns, for example where the Education and Skills Funding Agency has issued a financial notice to improve due to financial non-compliance, breaches of funding agreements; and/or
  • serious concerns about the leadership or governance of the sponsor, which may include due diligence and counter extremism issues.

Academy sponsors remain on pause unless and until the concerns that led to them being paused have been resolved. Just because a sponsor is not on pause does not mean it is automatically allowed to take on more schools. A rigorous process is followed for all sponsorship decisions.                                                                              Answer to PQ 146287

Even though a sponsor has to meet one, two or all of these tests, it seems likely that the outcome may be at the discretion of the Regional School Commissioner. In my view there should be a clear national policy on how these tests are applied, including for faith schools and their diocesan sponsors.

The government has also released the details of the number of academies that have been re-brokered since 2013-14. (Note not 2013/14) In total, 332 academies have moved Trusts during the period 2013/14 to 2016/17, with some more no doubt since then. As the number of academies has increased, and many schools either became academies or at  least started the process of doing so during the period when Mr Gove was Secretary of State, so the number moving Trusts has increased, from just 15 schools in 2013-14 to 165 in 2016-17. The PQ didn’t state the cost of the exercise and how many other schools might be stranded in limbo awaiting a new sponsor.

The governance arrangements for schools across England is now a mess. Schools that stay with a local authority know that they might have a new group of politicians in charge after an election, but in most cases the same group of officers will be in place; although the disruption to schools in Northamptonshire following the collapse of the County Council reminds us what is possible. However, schools joining a MAT can suddenly find their central services provided miles away from a group of staff they have no connections to and that may not understand their concerns. Such schools have no way out and no appeal mechanism against being moved or even traded between Trusts.

Missing the point

For the past year I have been drawing attention to the fact that children taken into care during the school year and then placed away from home may well have to change schools at short notice and mid-year. In many cases, schools asked to admit these young people recognise that the Admissions Code provides for priority for looked after children during the admissions round. However, in some cases, schools take an entirely opposite approach to in-year requests for a place and do everything to stall an admission.

Yesterday in parliament, my MP asked a question about this issue:Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) (LD)​

Looked-after children in Oxfordshire could have to wait for up to six months to get into the secondary school that they need to, primarily because local authorities do not have the directive powers over academies that they do over maintained schools. What is the Minister doing to ensure that the most vulnerable children do not miss a day of school?

Here is the Minister’s response
Nadhim Zahawi

Those most disadvantaged children, to whom the hon. Lady referred, are actually given priority during the admissions process.

https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-05-14/debates/28B7B87C-B33B-4B69-B2D5-16AF519F3309/OralAnswersToQuestions

The exchange shows how it is necessary to be very precise when wording parliamentary questions, as indeed journalists tell me that it does when wording Freedom of Information requests. The Minister is technically correct, but that answer seems to apply more to the normal admission round for the start of the school year than to casual admissions in-year, as happens when a child is taken into care.

The DfE does need to address this issue. I would ask readers to check what is happening in their locality. Are there children in care being tutored away from schools because a school place cannot be found? How closely is the local authority monitoring this issue and what are the large children’s charities doing about the matter?

It is tough being taken into care and, as the admissions code recognises, we should be ensuring priority in the education of these young people at any time of the year. This includes continuity of provision.

I recognise that there are some areas of the country where there are large numbers of such children being placed and so of these are areas in selective systems further reducing the option of schools that can be approached. Should we offer more boarding school places for such children rather than trying to find foster families or is that too much like returning to institutional care – they is still the issue of how to handle school holidays in those cases.

Being taken into care presents a big risk to the education of a young person. At least trying to ensure that they can be found a school place quickly and that schools recognise the need to transition these newcomers into school life effectively and with sympathy is the least we should ask of a civilised society. Please do not allow these children to be forgotten.