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.

 

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Can you trust the data?

How often do government departments have to reissue press notices? Following intervention from the Office for Statistics Regulation, the DfE have been placed in that position. The OSR letter can be read at
https://www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/DfE-statistics-Ed-Humpherson-to-Mike-Jones.pdf The revised press notice and the other issue about MAT transfers raised by OSR concern matters dear to the policy objectives of Ministers, so any potentially misleading data are of concern.

However, the DfE statisticians also have to battle with others that don’t always provide data that is of top quality. As reported in an earlier post, about local authority expenditure per pupil, there are a couple of local authorities in one table in that Statistical First Release where the data must be suspect because of the reported level: it both cases, way too low.

Then there is the case of under-reporting by schools in areas such as fixed term exclusions and more specifically for the number of pupils placed on reduced timetables, but not excluded. This is an area where more work is needed to discover what is actually happening, not least in the academy sector. This work is important because of the potential safeguarding aspect.

Local authorities and the local Safeguarding Board may not be in full possession of the facts if academies do not fully report to the DfE. It would be a simple change to add to the funding letter that academies are required to report all statistics via the local authority where they are located unless the Regional School Commissioner has explicitly provided for an alternative system that is as rigorous. At present, this is an issue with one part of the dual system not working as well as the other and creating potential risks for young people.

At least these days, as with the re-issued DfE Press notice mistakes can be rectified when noticed. In the former days before the internet such mistakes could become set in stone. One of my first communications with government was to point out that pupil teacher ratios provided in a written parliamentary answer and reported in Hansard were wrong. I think the first local authority in the list missed the PTR and was allocated that of the next by mistake. It wasn’t picked up before printing and went into the record. An error notice appeared later, but who checks written PQs for later revisions? Nobody, I would hazard a guess. As a result, anyone using that data source would have inaccurate data. It doesn’t matter now, but might have then. One year, the Department had to re-issue a whole Statistical Volume because of the number of printer’s errors.

Today, the record can be set straight quickly and easily, even if the original error is retained as well.

Statistics are important as a source of information under-pinning decision making and debate, hence the need for accuracy. The question of management information that is separate from statistics is one that has always interested me. In some areas, such as the labour market for teachers, I have always believed up to the minute information is important to spot changes in trends as early as possible. However, this data is often in a raw state and not 100% accurate. Where to draw the line between management information and statistics is an interesting and ever changing debate as technology provides ever more exciting tools for data collection and analysis.

Excluded should not mean forgotten

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.

These included:

-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;

and

-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.