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.

 

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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.

 

Upturn in average number of young people in custody

There has been a small but disappointing increase in the average number of young people up to the age of 18 being held in custody over the past eighteen months. Although the figures from April 2016 to February this year are provisional, they show the first upturn in annual average numbers held in detention since 2007/08. The provisional number for 2017/18 to February was 996 compared with 3,208 in 2007/08 and an all-time high since 2000 of 3,235 reached in 2005/06 at the height of the New Labour Target Culture when young people were being criminalised at an alarming rate. The data is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/youth-custody-data

Sadly, with the increase in knife violence witnessed recently, I suspect that the average number of young people in custody will only continue to increase over the short-term. Youngster from London make up by far the largest number from any one region, accounting for a quarter of the total of young people locked up in February 2018. By contrast, only 25 young people from Wales and 32 from the South West were being held in custody.

The change in policy on remands in custody for young people some years ago means that in February this year only 216, or about 20% of the total population in youth custody, were on remand. That may well still be too high a number, but there are still some serious crimes where custody following charge may be inevitable for public protection. If you add the total serving sentences for serious offences that will likely transfer into the adult prison estate when they are old enough to the remand population this group totals about 500 of the 870 under 18s in custody. There are fewer than 400 of this age group on Detention and Training Orders, almost the lowest number since well before 2000.

Only 28 of the under-18s in custody were classified as female, down from a peak of 241 in August 2007. This is approaching a 90% reduction, a percentage not achieved for the adult female prison population during the same period. Proportionally the number of BAME (Asian, Black, Mixed and Other) young people in custody has not declined in line with the reduction in the number recorded as White, so that in February 2018 there were 470 young people in custody classified as White and 385 as BAME compared with 1,754 White and 778 BAME in custody in August 2008.

The Youth Justice Board had not commissioned any bed space in the Eastern Region and only had nine custody bed spaces in use in the North East Region.  The 137 beds in the London Region are almost certainly not enough to allow young people to be kept in custody close to home. The same will almost certainly be true for the small number of young women in custody. Regular visits are very important to those in custody and their families and this can be a real issue now that numbers in custody are so much lower than a decade ago.

We must aim to ensure numbers in custody are as low as possible and that sentence lengths take into account the mental and physical age of the young person committing the crime as well as the seriousness of the offence. Ensuring their continued education and training and mental well-being are also important factors to take into account while in custody.

 

 

 

Educating children taken into care

Reflecting on my years as a secondary school teacher during the 1970s in Tottenham, I am sure that I taught many of what are now being called the ‘Windrush Generation’. These were the children from the Caribbean that followed their parents that came to Britain to help overcome the labour shortages faced by many public sector and nationalised industries in the 1950s and 1960s; nurses; bus drivers and conductors and railway porters and guards, as well as station staff working on the London Underground. I well recall the passion for the education of their children that was a feature of many of the parents attending open evenings.

Regular readers of this blog will know of my concerns for another group of young people that I view as being ignored by too many policy makers at Whitehall, hopefully not just for the sake of convenience and perhaps not ‘rocking the boat’. These are those children and young people taken into care and placed by a local authority outside of their local area; usually for very good safeguarding reasons, but sometimes because of local shortages of foster homes with appropriate experience.

In some cases, these young people are being denied an education, as schools either refuse admissions in-year or take inordinate lengths of time making up their minds. It is hard enough being taken into care, but to see your education disrupted through no fault of your own is to be punished for something that isn’t your fault. Tutoring isn’t the same as schooling and is often a poor substitute for these young people.

The DfE has a meeting later this week of civil servants and local authority officers that regularly discuss admissions issues, as well as exclusions and home to school transport matters. It is worth reminding the group that two years ago the 2016 White Paper mentioned returning powers over in-year admissions to local authorities. Such powers would go a long way to solving the problems facing these students.

Please will readers of this blog also ask their contacts to take up this issue and secure a decent education for these young people? I know that in some areas there have been concentrations of such children that can cause challenges for certain schools, especially secondary modern schools as the children mostly come from areas with non-selective secondary education and haven’t passed an entrance examination, even if the selective schools had any places in the appropriate year group, which most don’t. These schools may need extra help through a tweak in the Common Funding Formula, both nationally and by the local Schools Forum.

I would hope that Education Scrutiny and Oversight Committees around the country might also like to look at the issue of the educational outcomes of children taken into care and how they could be improved.

These are a group of young people that must not be allowed to become casualties of our system: they deserve better from us all regardless of our political persuasion.

The responsibility of us all

The following item was reported in several newspapers earlier this week, including The Daily Telegraph https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/04/11/child-stabbings-rise-63pc-amid-disturbing-trend-younger-knife/

NHS data shows a 63% increase over five years in the number of children aged 16 and under who have been treated for stab wounds in England. The largest increase (85%) between 2011/12 and 2016/17 was among 15-year-olds. The overall rise in the number of stabbings across England during the same period was 14%.

Now there may not be a correlation, but 15-year olds, and 15-year old young men in particular, have the highest rate of exclusions from our schools. After falling for many years, exclusions are also on the rise across much of England.

As those that know my life history will understand these two sets of statistics and particularly the one about knife crime have an especial resonance with me, as it was a teenager that stabbed me over 40 years ago in a rare act of serious and unprovoked violence that just happened to take place in a classroom in front of a group of children. As a result, knife crime has always been of special concern to me. I do view the recent upturn as a worrying trend.

Oxfordshire’s Cabinet will be discussing the County’s Education Scrutiny Committee report on exclusions in the county at their meeting next Tuesday. You can read the report in the Cabinet papers for 17th April 2018 at www.oxfordshire.gov.uk at item 6. I always hope that young people engaged fully in education will be less likely to commit these acts of knife crime.

I am also sure that cutbacks in both the Youth Service budget and that of the Youth Offending Teams across the county, along with revisions to Probation, probably haven’t helped in the prevention of such crimes. As ever, cutbacks have consequences further down the line when the money is being well spent.

In this case, changes in the nature of the curriculum probably may also have played a part since practical subjects have also too often been replaced with additional classroom time that can make life more challenging for many teachers working with pupils that don’t appreciate their efforts.

I believe there needs to be a concerted effort on the part of all responsible to once again recognise the need for behaviour management and to do everything to research and investigate the causes of exclusions in their school. Generally, persistent disruptive behaviour is given as the reasons for the largest number of exclusions. Working out how to reduce these exclusions should help allow resources to then be focused on dealing with other reasons why pupils are excluded.

It doesn’t matter whether schools are maintained, voluntary added, academies or free schools, they all have a responsibility to tackle this problem of school children carrying and using knives. Teaching Schools, National Leaders of Education and of Governance and those responsible for both training new entrants into the profession as well as designing continuing professional development will also need to ensure that they continue to make behaviour management strategies a high priority.