The new Report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) about exclusions, building on their work earlier this year, is deeply worrying. https://epi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Unexplained-pupil-moves_LAs-MATs_EPI-2019.pdf
Among the most concerning of EPI’s new findings are;
Amongst the 2017 cohort of pupils, we also found that approximately 24,000 children who exit to an unknown destination do not return to a state-funded school by the spring term of year 11.
The vast majority of unexplained exits do not appear to be a managed move.
51.9 per cent of all unexplained exits are to an unknown destination in the term following the exit.
Both LAs and MATs among the school groups with higher than average rates of unexplained exits, i.e. this is not a problem that is most prevalent amongst a particular structure of school governance. However larger MATs (those with at least ten schools with secondary pupils) all have above average rates of unexplained exits.
These snippets, taken from the Key Findings of a long and detailed report, suggest a system that is not operating to educate all children. Some teenagers have never been easy to educate. Indeed, challenging though schools are today most are not the same as they were up to the 1990s.
There is undoubtedly a trade-off to be had between the cost of educating challenging pupils and the funding a school receives. This trade-off may be starker in areas where Pupil Premium and High Needs Block funds are lower because of high employment and government funding calculations.
Nevertheless, the issue cannot and should not be solved by schools excluding pupils with nowhere to for them to go. EPI might also like to look at pupils that move into an area mid-year and the extent to which some of those with challenging problems are not offered school places.
The education of all our children is an issue for government to tackle. In the present governance hiatus, only central government can identify and tackle both the root causes of the problem and those schools and MATs that are the worst offenders. Ministers have been willing to take on academy trusts over the issue of high pay for Chief Executives. This is another issue for action by central government, with Ofsted, Regional School Commissioners and the Education and Skills Funding Council all acting together.
There is little local authorities can do except identify the size of the problem in their area and ensure missing children are identified and then put pressure on schools. But, with budgets largely in the hands of schools, there is little authorities can do even with maintained schools, and virtually nothing with these academy chains, often with headquarters located far away in another part of the country.
Sadly, one casualty of any intervention might be the right of genuine home schoolers to educate their children as they see fit without the need to keep the authorities informed. This principle goes back to 1870 and the start of state education. However, it must be at risk if it allows for a system that lets so many young people disappear from sight before the end of their statutory education. Out of sight must not mean out of mind.