Schools need to support not exclude adopted children

Some months ago I raised concerns about children being taken into care having to wait for long periods of time before being offered a school place when their foster placements ws some distance from any previous school. Such treatment of vulnerable children is not a good reflection on our education system. Sadly, this is still happening.

Now the BBC has published the results of a survey by Adoption UK into exclusions of adopted children, another vulnerable group of young people. This report makes for grim reading as well. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-41915775

Adoption UK’s research estimates adopted children can be up to 20 times more likely to be permanently excluded than their peers.

The charity surveyed 2,084 of its members and found that of those with adopted children at school in 2015-16, 12% had had a fixed-term and 1.63% a permanent exclusion.

This compares with a rate of 4.29% for fixed and 0.08% for permanent exclusions across all state schools in England.

Adoption UK says that while its survey is indicative rather than scientific, it raises serious concerns.

Their web site is at: https://www.adoptionuk.org/  but I couldn’t find the survey when I looked.

The fact that there is a Minister of State for Children and Families should be a help in terms of government policy, but what is needed is a commitment to take action to support the education of vulnerable children at traumatic stages in their lives and a recognition that the effects can be long-lasting.

The dual and increasingly separate maintained and academy systems aren’t working for these children in many cases, as one group doesn’t have the money needed to offer effective help and the other often doesn’t seem to have the will, even though it has the ability to raise the cash.

I trust schools to do the best for ‘nice’ children supported by their parents, but I want them also to be supported to handle the more challenging of our young people as they set out on their lives. Exclusion and wiping your hands of the problem isn’t the answer.

If Paddington Bear can be thought of as a metaphor for an adopted child and can be falsely accused in the latest film of a crime he didn’t commit, then let us all pause for a moment and reflect upon not just our judgement, but also our treatment of adopted children. Sometimes being excluded must feel like being treated as a criminal and having done something wrong.

The adoption process in England is now being reorganised into larger regional agencies, but local authorities will still have to deal with the on-going responsibilities that result. From April 2018 the Virtual Schools will take on extra responsibilities for adopted children, on top of their already heavy workloads. But, as Adoption UK say, school staff should have better training around the needs of adopted children and for better support for these children throughout their schooling.

There is a further worry that the true extent of problem of exclusion is being masked because schools are regularly asking adoptive parents to take their children home and keep them out of school, without recording them as exclusions.

This is an area that Ofsted needs to inspect across a range of schools to uncover exactly what is happening.

 

 

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Law rules, OK

Yesterday afternoon I spent engaging in a series of events that skilfully blended the modern with the traditional. Oxford as a city seems quite good at such activities. The afternoon started with the Oxford Law Lecture. This was instituted some 14 years ago by the High Sheriff of Oxfordshire to take place on the same day as the Court Sermon. This year’s lecture was provided by Lord Igor Judge and discussed the ’rule of law’: a very appropriate topic in these times of constitutional upheaval.

Linking the lecture and the sermon later in the afternoon is the ceremony of the gloves, where a visiting high court judge is presented with a pair of gloves by representatives of the City of Oxford and the longer-operating of the city’s two universities. The actual ceremony takes place in the Dean of Christ Church’s lodgings, so is not open to the public. Interestingly, the Lord Mayor in full ceremonial robes and chain, preceded by the City mace, walks almost unnoticed from the town hall to Christ Church College along a most undistinguished route, past rows of people queuing at the city’s main conglomeration of bus stops.

All well and good, I hear you saying, but what has this to do with a blog that is about education? Well, I firmly believe that as public institutions schools are required to understand the concept of the rule of law and to apply it wherever possible. My campaign about the time it takes for some looked after children to be offered a school place is a case in point. Are they being denied their right to education for a responsible reason or because of procedures set up to benefit the school? Now, I am sure that the school might argue its procedures are for the benefit of the many and not the individual. But, every individual has the right to access education and to discriminate against those that move into an area mid-year by making it harder for them is to place an unfair burden on children for whom the move may not have been their fault.

I also believe that the draconian discipline measures reported as being introduced by some schools also flout the principle of the rule of law. A detention for reacting to a noise behind you with no right of appeal may be necessary in the short-term to regain control in a school that has descended into chaos, but should never form part of a discipline code that relies upon fear of making a mistake more than on an understanding of the need for order in classrooms as part of a long-term strategy. What sort of citizens are we trying to produce in our schools? Indeed, what type of teacher does such a system also produce? Rules should be kept because they are sensible for all and, thus, accepted by all.

Helping children internalise the understanding of why there are rules and laws is important. Developing an understanding of the purpose of laws, whereby adults don’t need to create rules obeyed just because, I say so, is to help young people to grow and develop. We warn the young child off for knowing the dangers of a hot stove; we expect adults to internalise the dangers. How we in education carry out our rules so that they are fair to all is a mark of a society that understands the rule of law as well as the rules of law.

Support ‘Looked After’ young people’s education

In my post on 11th June, after the outcome of the general election was known, I suggested some issues that could still be addressed by a government without an overall majority. First among these was the issue of school places for young people taken into care and placed outside of the local authority. They have no guarantee of access to a new school within any given time frame at present. It seemed to me daft that a parent could be fined for taking a child out of school for two weeks to go on holiday but a local authority could wait six months for a school place to be provided for a young person taken into care. (Incidentally, the parent whose case went to the Supreme Court faces a new hearing in his local Magistrates’ Court today following the ruling from the highest court in the land.)

On Tuesday, I asked a question of the Oxfordshire Cabinet members for Education and Children’s Services about the extent of the problem of finding school places for ‘Looked After’ young people. The question and answer are reproduced below.

Question from Councillor Howson to Councillors Harrod and Hibbert Biles

“How many children taken into care over the past three school years and placed ‘out county’ have had to wait for more than two weeks to be taken onto the roll of a school in the area where they have been moved to and what is the longest period of time a child has waited for a place at a school in the area where they have been re-located to during this period?”

Answer: Over the past three years it has been exceptional for a ‘Looked After’ Child to be taken onto the roll of an out of county school in under two weeks. Indeed, of the nine cases of primary age pupils we’ve looked at, the quickest a pupil was placed was 12 days (there were two) and the slowest was 77 days. For the 22 secondary age pupils the picture is even worse, with 3 weeks the quickest placement and a couple taking fully 6 months to get some of our most vulnerable young people into a stable school setting.

he main reason for this completely unacceptable state of affairs is that the Council has no power to direct an academy to admit a ‘Looked After’ Child. The only way we can force an academy’s hand is to get a direction from the Educations & Skills Funding Agency and this, as you can see from the foregoing times, can be a very long winded bureaucratic process. The fact that it takes so long for academies to admit our ‘Looked After’ Children shows how doggedly our officers pursue the matter; I suspect that many other local authorities simply give up when they meet an intransigent academy that doesn’t want to take responsibility for educating their vulnerable young people.

I found the answer deeply depressing. However, the good news is that MPs from the three political parties representing Oxfordshire constituencies have agreed to work together to take the matter forward. Thank you to MPs, Victoria Prentice, Layla Moran and Anneliese Dodds, for agreeing to seek action to remedy this state of affairs.

If readers have data about the issue elsewhere in England, I would be delighted to hear from you, so pressure can be put on officials nationally to ensure a rapid change in the rules.

School days mean school days

The judgement of the Supreme Court on the matter of whether term-time holidays are ‘acceptable’ in terms of pupil missing school is interesting. The lower courts clearly sides with the parent, and accepted the decision of the parent. This presumably was based, at least in part, on the contract between parent and State. The parent is required to secure the education of their child, but the State doesn’t prescribe how that is achieved, except in essence by stating a default position of schooling provided by the State. The Supreme Court had to decide the meaning of “fails to attend regularly” in section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996.

The Supreme Court would now seem to have very clearly reaffirmed that if you enter into that contract with the State for the State to educate your child, it is binding in terms of the requirement to deliver your child to school when the school is in session; illness and other specified unavoidable events apart being allowed as reasons for non-attendance.

Interestingly, the parent or child has historically had no come-back on the school or its overall operator if for any reason the school cannot open. Hence the residual duty remaining with local authorities to step in and ‘secure’ the education of a child if something happens to an academy or free school. Hence, also why the State has never guaranteed the level of teaching or the qualifications of those required to teach any particular child anything.

I have read the judgement of the Supreme Court, and Lady Hale in particular with interest and was struck by the following paragraph in what was an excellent summary of education history and the law on attendance that is well worth reading and largely free of legal jargon.

Finally, given the strictness of the previous law, Parliament is unlikely to have found it acceptable that parents could take their children out of school in blatant disregard of the school rules, either without having asked for permission at all or, having asked for it, been refused. This is not an approach to rule-keeping which any educational system can be expected to find acceptable. It is a slap in the face to those obedient parents who do keep the rules, whatever the cost or inconvenience to themselves.

Copied from: https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2016-0155-judgment.pdf

We are now, it seems, much closer to the pre-1944 Education Act position where even a single day of missed school could be regarded as unacceptable and the commission of an offence. Parents will now need to take heed of the rules of the school.

However, I foresee some future questions over the legitimacy of absence by ‘illnesses where the illness is self-certified by the parent. Taking a Friday and the following Monday off ‘sick’ may be especially risky is a school creates a rule requiring a doctor’s note in such circumstances. The absence of a note might be an unreasonable absence.

The case still leaves un-resolved the twin problems of the price of holidays for families with children at school and the issue of families that work in holiday areas. The original Victorian legislation recognised we were in part an agricultural nation and that affected attendance at school. The current legislation doesn’t recognise we are now a service-based economy. For good measure, it also doesn’t recognise that the Victorian legislation on home to school transport provision needs bringing up to date as well.

 

Banning teachers from work

In the light of the NCTL still seemingly not having published the overall targets for ITT numbers to be recruited for the 2017 entry into the profession, I thought would look at what was on their web site. The ITT data will, I assume, eventually have to come from a parliamentary question at some point in 2017.

Another aspect of the NCTL’s work is to conduct the hearings into misconduct by teachers and report the findings on their web site. If you like, the potential for ending a teacher’s professional life, at least in the United Kingdom. I estimate that there were just over 130 hearings reported so far for 2016; not bad for a profession with 500,000+ active members and a lot more with the right to teach in state funded schools. As a percentage of the profession, the figure is so small as to not be worth calculating.

However, one aspect worth recording is a large discrepancy in the gender of those facing misconduct hearings. Although the teaching profession is now predominantly female, in terms of the active population, misconduct hearings in 2016 related to close to three men for every women summonded in front of a panel. Many hearings are in absentia as the teacher doesn’t bother to attend to learn their fate. In these cases, they often seem to have left the profession, at least in this country. There have been some worryingly ill-prepared statements of facts in a small number of cases. In one case, even a court record didn’t really make sense, although whether that was the fault of the Magistrates’ Court or the case officer wasn’t clear from the judgement.

In two cases, both relating to male teachers, no finding was made as the facts were not proved. In the case of 14 male teachers and 5 women teachers where cases were taken out, the facts were proved, but no Prohibition order was made. In all other case Prohibition Orders were made. Sexual conduct or the viewing of pornography amounted to over a third of the reasons for issuing a Prohibition Order, although in a small number of cases, some historical in nature, no Order was made. The second most frequent reason for issuing a Prohibition Order was as a result of a successful conviction in a criminal case of a teacher. In some instances, this related to matters taking place at a school, in other not. There were a small number of cases resulting from actions to do with tests or examinations, that breached the standards required of teachers. The remaining cases were accounted for as a result of a variety of matters, including misuse of school funds.

Teachers from across the country were issued with Prohibition Orders, although relatively few from the midlands. All the cases relating to alcohol concerned teachers from the same region. Although most cases were of teachers that had worked in state-funded schools, some cases involved teachers that had worked in the private sector.

Clearly, head teachers under pressure and in charge of challenging schools need to be mindful of the extra risks associated with their role, as it is too easy to let the paperwork and attention to detail slip.

Young teachers, need to be aware of the need for appropriate professional boundaries with any pupil, of any age, especially in high risk situations. Beware the School Prom.

No doubt, these cases heard in public are the most extreme in nature and there may be others where a teacher has been warned of their conduct and it has stopped. By publishing the cases, the NCTL allows a body of case law to emerge and also a debate about issues such as where boundaries should be drawn. In all cases the Secretary of State, through a civil servant, has the final say in the outcome.

 

Thank you Mr Taylor

The Ministry of Justice published an important report on Youth Justice this week. It was written by Mr Taylor. Regular readers of this blog may recall this civil servant and former head teacher when he was in charge of teacher training and espoused the view that planning ITT numbers was not useful. His views at that time were the focus of a series of blog posts.

Youth Justice, and especially the manner in which children were dealt with by the criminal justice system, was a blot on the reputation of the last Labour government. As the Taylor Report makes clear https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-of-the-youth-justice-system offending by young people reached a peak in 2007 after ten years of Labour governments and during the time the police were being required to meet targets to reduce offending.

In 2007, 225,000 children in England and Wales received a caution or conviction for a notifiable offence. Of these children, 106,000 were first-time entrants to the system having never before received a caution or conviction. 126,000 were prosecuted at court, and 5,800 were sentenced to custody. The average monthly under-18 custodial population for 2007 was 2,909.

  1. Since that high watermark the number of children dealt with by the youth justice system has reduced spectacularly, with consistent year-on-year falls. The number of children cautioned or convicted in 2015 was 47,000 – down 79% since 2007. Over the same period the number of children entering the youth justice system for the first time has fallen by 82%, the number prosecuted at court has reduced by 69%, and there are now around only 900 under-18s in custody.

This blog has commented before on the reduction in the size of the youth prison population when it fell below 1,000 for the first time in recent history. Now 900, is still far too many, but averages just below three per local authority at any one time.

The risk in the new proposals is that the current diffuse system run from both Westminster and by local authorities becomes a devolved system with some local authorities not large enough to handle an effective system. My guess is that then the government would step in and creates the regional structures it is now seeking in the adoption world where provision was patchy. Indeed, the Taylor report hints at this approach.

I also find the section on education rather woolly in terms of who takes control? Academisation and years of under-mining local authorities means that they no longer have the power to intervene when schools are not living up to the high standards required to help keep young people away from the path of a life of crime.

However, the recommendation about making convictions and cautions spent when resulting from actions when a person was a child, chimes with what I have been saying for many years. Too many people have their careers blighted by a single act as a young person. In this age of ever tightening restrictions it can mean the difference between working in a profession or not and even where a person can go on holiday.

The idea of Youth Panels sitting in local buildings also chimes with my thinking when a magistrate. With reducing workload children attending court have had to travel ever further and this means not only defendants, but also witnesses and victims: not a good idea.

As ever, with this government, the issue comes down to money and whether any changes will be used to pass the buck and reduce not improve services. We certainly don’t want to see a quarter of a million children a year receive a caution or conviction. Those days must never return.

 

A new future

Waking up to the news that the United Kingdom has voted to leave the EU is a disappointment. Oxford, along with cities such as Cambridge and Bristol, was one of the few places outside London to vote strongly in favour of remaining. However, I am not surprised by the overall result. My previous post, on the speech by The Chief Inspector about the failure of our education system to provide an education for all, recognised the deep gulf that has opened up in England and parts of Wales between those that have gained the most across the board from the past half century and those that feel impoverished by the direction of travel the country has taken. This feeling of impoverishment and associated alienation has nothing to do with any economic benefits the region where they live may have received.

The irony is that those voting to leave the EU could in some measure be dependent upon those that voted to remain if the economic miracle those advocating leave believe can happen is now to come about. The entrepreneurial success of parts of the country must be broadened and deepened. To that extent the aim of a northern powerhouse is a good move, but 20 years too late.

On the more narrow focus that is of direct interest to me, I wonder what the outcome of the referendum will mean for the staffing of our schools. One scenario has lots of young graduates, the group that voted mostly strongly to remain in the EU, looking for teaching posts overseas. At the same time, the unknown number of EU trained teachers working in schools across England may re-consider their position here and also look either to return home or seek another post overseas. On the other hand, those from EU countries where unemployment is still high and where teaching pays less than it does here may wish to remain, if allowed to do so. In any teacher shortage that might develop it must not be the least advantaged that suffer the most, for access to a high quality education remains a universal right regardless of the political grouping to which we belong as a country.

A fall in sterling will be good news for independent boarding schools offering an education to those from across the globe, as it will become cheaper to study in Britain. For the same reason, universities may find attracting students from overseas slightly easier, although presumably once Britain leaves the EU all students from overseas will pay the same in fees.

Personally, I will continue to fight to ensure that Britain continues as an outward looking, tolerant and liberal society where Human Rights remain important. Education plays a large part in achieving this goal and it must be protected in any of the possible hard times ahead. I do not want to become a member of a vassal state of either the USA or China, instead of a full-member of the EU, should these superpowers use any period of economic uncertainty to harvest UK assets at a bargain price.