Off-rolling and the state of education governance

Earlier this month The Education Policy Institute published a report into unexplained pupil exits from schools https://epi.org.uk/publications-and-research/unexplained-pupil-exits/ Their paper raised the question about whether this was a growing problem? A good survey of the background to the issue, and how it has gained prominence, can be found in a House of Commons briefing paper at https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-8444#fullreport first published last December. For those with access to the Local Government Information Unit publications, John Fowler has also written a helpful policy briefing on the subject.

The House of Commons paper starts with a helpful explanation of the issue and why it is important.

What is ‘off-rolling’ and why are concerns being raised?

There are many reasons that children may be removed from the school roll. For example, children may legitimately be excluded from schools, move to another school that is more suitable for them, or simply move home. Parents also have the right to educate their child at home if they wish. Recent years, however, have seen concerns being raised that children are leaving school rolls in rising numbers, in particular as they approach GCSE level, because of pressures within the school system. It has been suggested that increased ‘off-rolling’ is taking place because of the impact of pupils who are likely to perform relatively poorly in their examinations on school performance measures, and because schools may be struggling to support children who need high levels of support, for example pupils with special educational needs. Off-rolling of this kind might involve children being excluded for reasons that are not legitimate, or parents being encouraged to home educate a child where they would not otherwise have chosen to do so. Excluding children from school for non-disciplinary reasons is unlawful. Children who are off-rolled may move to another school, into alternative provision, or into home education.

In the present muddled state of education governance, local authorities may no longer operate schools, but they retain residual responsibilities, not least where schooling intersects with child safety concerns. Thus, as John Fowler points out, the DfE is reviewing its statutory guidance on Children Missing Education and the requirement in the Education (Pupil Registration) Regulations 2006, as amended in 2016, in order to publish a review by 30 September 2019 of regulation 5. This is the regulation that covers the contents of the admission register, along with regulation 8 that deals with deletions from the admission register, and regulation 12 that covers information to be provided to the local authority.

In Oxfordshire, all but one of our secondary schools are now academies. What sanctions does the local authority have if schools do not comply with the requirement to notify an exit from school by a pupil, especially by a pupil at the start of Year Eleven where they still would not count towards a school’s results the following summer? A rule that has no sanctions attached is a rule that can be broken with impunity.

In an earlier post on this blog about youth justice I suggested that ‘any secondary school with more than 8% of its current annual revenue grant held in reserves and also with an above average figure for permanent exclusions across years 10 and 11 and any off-rolling of pupils in those years for pupils with SEND should have 50% of the excess of their reserves above the 8% level removed by the government and reallocated to the local Youth Offending Team.’ (March 11th 2019 post headed youth Justice)

If it is more cost effective for schools to remove challenging pupils than to retain them on roll, then there is little incentive, especially when funds are tight, to keep to either the letter or the spirit of the law. At the next Cabinet meeting in Oxfordshire I will be probing this matter further through a tabled question.

 

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One of the success stories of the past decade has been the reduction in the number of young people held in custody, both on remand and after sentencing. Sadly, with the present increase in ‘knife’ crime that trend may well be reversed over the coming few months.

Perhaps the increase in violent crime might have been reduced in scale had the Funding to help local authorities keep young people away from crime and re-offending not been halved since 2010. Youth justice grants, which fund council youth offending teams, have been reduced from £145m in 2010-11 to £71.5m in 2018-19, according to the Local Government Association. Furthermore, even though councils have already set their budgets for 2019-20, they are still awaiting their allocations for youth justice grants, thus, according to the Local Government Association, making it “extremely difficult” to plan services aimed at preventing gangs and violent crime.

Now it stands to reason that although the number of young people entering the youth Justice system is sharply down on the terrible days of the Labour government – by some 86% for the drop in first time entrants to the youth justice system – again according to the Local Government Association, many already in the system may be continuing to reoffend. . https://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2019/03/youth-offending-team-funding-halved?utm_source=Adestra&utm_medium=email&utm_term=

Cutting the grant for Youth Justice Services seems like another short-sighted attempt to save cash, where it may have actually had the opposite result in practice. Youth offending teams cannot devise schemes to held reduce re-offing, especially among what used to be termed ‘persistent young offenders’ if they no longer have the funds to do their work.

So, here is a suggestion. Any secondary school with more than 8% of its current annual revenue grant held in reserves and also with an above average figure for permanent exclusions across years 10 and 11 and any off-rolling of pupils in those years for pupils with SEND should have 50% of the excess of their reserves above the 8% level removed by the government and reallocated to the local Youth Offending Team.

Yes, the suggestion is crude, and if it catches any genuine cases, then the local Youth Offending Team can work with those schools to reallocate the funds to appropriate programmes.

This is a one-off short-term solution to allow government, in this time of policy paralysis, to find a better long-term solution to the increase in crime among teenagers and the cash to support new programmes over the longer-term.

At present, although more schools are reporting deficits, some have put money aside for a rainy day in a prudent manner, these latter group of schools would only be affected under these proposals if they had also shifted the burden of educating some challenging pupils onto others.

Cash in reserves is sterile public money, and with a need to deal with the present increase in violent crime, something needs to be done and quickly. Of course, if the government can find new cash in the Spring Statement my solution won’t be necessary.

 

 

Knife Crime must be tackled

Those readers that have followed this blog since its inception in 2014 will know that I have written sparingly about the issue of knife crime. They will also know that I write from personal experience. In 1977 a pupil excluded from both a mainstream secondary school and then a special school entered my classroom and stabbed me in front of a class of pupils: luckily I survived.

I think my comments on the issue of exclusions and knife crime, today’s current topic for debate in the media, were best summed up in my post of 14th April last year under the heading ‘The responsibility of us all’. https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2018/04/14/the-responsibility-of-us-all/

The most telling paragraph is not about the deaths but that:

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%.

Like my experience, most of these could have been near misses. As I pointed out last year, exclusions have always been greatest among 14 and 15 year old boys.

What was also interesting today was to hear the Mayor of London on the BBC’s Today programme apparently recognising the role local authorities used to play in education; not least in coordinating what happens to excluded pupils. The role of local authorities is one, although unfashionable, I have consistently championed through this blog.

I am also interested to know how many local authority scrutiny committees have focused the spotlight on exclusions in recent years: Oxfordshire Education Scrutiny Committee has done so, and you can find link to their report by using the search facility on WordPress.

The reduction in the use of youth custody has been a positive outcome of the change in the approach to penal policy and sentencing in recent years, and I do not think locking up fewer young people has contributed to the rise in knife crime and the associated deaths and serious injuries.

However, I do think the almost complete destruction of youth services and the speed with which ideas can be transmitted through social media may be important factors. Much has been made of gangs, and what happened in Lancashire recently was horrific, but the stabbing of individuals on suburban streets and in other public spaces merits the question as to what was behind these seemingly senseless acts of violence. Were they gratuitous or was there a motive?

Much has also been made of the spread of drugs and the ‘county lines’ that have recreated modern ‘Fagins’, with control over the lives not only of those that run drugs but their families and friends.

Tacking these complex problems while also staying alert for the threat of terrorism almost certainly demands more resources for our police. Schools may also need more targeted resources to cope with challenging pupils. Will this mean a move back towards are more hypothecated distribution of funds, thus curbing some of the freedom schools currently enjoy?

 

  

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

Rising number of exclusions: a worrying trend

The DfE has published the data for exclusions during the 2015/16 school year. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/permanent-and-fixed-period-exclusions-in-england-2015-to-2016 The number of permanent exclusions across all state-funded primary, secondary and special schools has increased from 5,795 in 2014/15 to 6,685 in 2015/16.  The number of fixed period exclusions across all state-funded primary, secondary and special schools has increased from 302,975 in 2014/15 to 339,360 in 2015/16. This corresponds to around 1,790 permanent exclusions per day in 2015/16, up from around 1,590 per day in 2014/15.

These figures are not good news for the government, as it appears that the improvement seem over the last few years is now being undone. The DfE does need to look behind the headline numbers at the schools responsible for the increase and also if the increase has also continued on into 2016/17, where data for the first term should be available.

The problems of this type that affect a relatively small number of schools raise questions about the use of a national funding formula. In Medway, for instance, virtually all the exclusions are in non-selective schools, with many of the local selective schools not excluding any pupils at all. But, if each type of school receives the same funding component to spend on behaviour management, is that balanced off by adjustments in the other direction elsewhere in the budget.

It is these sorts of issues that create the debate about both hypothecation and unrestricted budgets on the one hand and our notions of equality on the other hand. Put both strands together and you have an interesting debate that despite the Pupil Premium does seem to me to be skewed towards a simplistic notion of equality mitigated only by the traditional view that London is an expensive place to live and work in.

Persistent disruptive behaviour remains by far and away the most common reason for both fixed term and permanent exclusions: schools have just come to the end of their tether with the pupil. How long the tether is may differ from school to school, as might the attitude to what is unacceptable behaviour, as schools try to raise the bar on standards of acceptable behaviour. There is a worrying high figure of around 20% where the reason for an exclusion is coded as ‘other’. This is not really acceptable. It may mean there is more than one reasons such as a pupil with generally persistent disruptive behaviour, but the actual exclusion is triggered by another event such as verbal or physical abuse to another pupil or staff member.

As ever, having special need, being on Free School Meals, or from a non-majority ethnic background are all additional risk factors in the likelihood of being excluded. This is despite several years where teacher preparation schemes were supposed to support teachers in schools with large numbers of likely at risk pupils.

Despite concerns in the press and elsewhere, exclusions for either bullying or racist abuse are minimal in the overall totals, although some exclusions may be coded under other headings even where pupils have exhibited this type of anti-social behaviour.

Years 8-10 still account for around 40% of all exclusions, so it is good to see the recent statement about slowing down the timetable for all to study the EBacc. I am sure a better look at the curriculum for this age group can help reduce exclusions where students are being forced to study subjects they no longer value. As ever, more boys are being excluded than girls, especially in terms of permanent exclusions.