The number of children permanently excluded from Lancashire’s secondary schools is on track to rise for the fifth consecutive year.
Figures for the autumn term of the current academic year reveal 109 pupils were barred from the classroom, compared to 103 during the same period twelve months earlier.
The statistics suggest a recent increase in exclusions is likely to continue, a meeting of Lancashire County Council’s education scrutiny committee was told.
A total of 314 pupils were excluded across the whole of 2017/18 – an increase of 64 percent since 2014/15 - and over twice the national average.
The most common reasons for exclusion were persistent disruptive behaviour and physical abuse of pupils and staff.
“I don’t think any headteacher uses exclusions willy-nilly – it’s done with a heavy heart,” Steve Belbin, Lancashire County Council’s interim director of education, said.
“But schools are entitled to follow their own policies and procedures. So I couldn’t phone a headteacher and say ‘do not exclude that child’,” he added.
Members heard that when fixed-term, temporary bans were factored into the figures, there were more than 3,800 periods of exclusion in Lancashire last year – not including any made by schools in the standalone council areas of Blackpool and Blackburn.
“Part of the purpose of a fixed-term exclusion is to prevent a permanent one – it should have an impact,” Mr Belbin said.
“A school will sit down with the child and their parents or carers – exclusions are not forgotten about, [but] every child deserves a second chance.”
Analysis of the data reveals that spikes in exclusions at individual schools coincide with the appointment of a new headteacher or conversion to become an academy – a school outside the control of the local authority.
“Sometimes an academy chain takes on a school which has previously been below [standard] and they [introduce] their own curriculum. That may appeal to pupils and engage them – or it might not,” Mr Belbin explained.
“A new leadership might have different expectations in terms of behaviour and attendance – they might bring in a new policy which is perhaps harsher.”
Going the “extra mile for certain pupils in certain schools” can sometimes be replaced with the adoption of a “more consistent” approach to discipline, members were told.
The authority is looking to bolster interim support for schools before a pupil arrives at the point of permanent exclusion, as well as continued use of so-called “managed moves”.
“They are a mechanism to move a child to a new school when they may be heading down the road to a permanent exclusion, [having] got into a pattern of behaviour,” Debbie Ormerod, the council’s admissions manager, said.
“It is an arrangement between the two schools, with the agreement of the parents and the pupil – a genuine fresh start in a new setting can make a difference.”
If a temporary exclusion is to last longer than six days, County Hall is obliged to find alternative provision for the child.
When young people are permanently excluded, they are often sent to one of Lancashire’s pupil referral units – many of which are full, the committee was told.
Back in 1996, the number of permanent exclusions from secondary school in the county stood at just 30 – meaning there has been a near tenfold increase over the past two decades. However, at least some of that jump can be attributed to more accurate recording of data, the local democracy reporting service understands.
Permanent exclusions from the county’s primary schools have remained relatively static over the past five years – with 55 pupils forced out during 2017/18. Members heard that a permanent exclusion from primary school increased the likelihood of further exclusions when the child moves into secondary education.
County Cllr John Potter called for Lancashire to “learn” from the recent spike in exclusions.
“We need to get better in the future - this is the one chance a child has to get its education right,” he said.
But fellow committee member, David Stansfield, laid the blame for poor behaviour at the door of parents rather than pupils.
“It’s the parents who need educating – a lid should be put on [bad behaviour] at home.
“But a lot of them just don’t get to grips with it and we end up with the problems later,” County Cllr Stansfield said.
The threat of permanent exclusion hung over Preston-born Sam Gregson from the moment he walked through the door of secondary school.
But, looking back, the self-confessed “rebel” says he did not regard being written off by his teachers as much of a threat.
“It wouldn’t have bothered me at the time, because you don’t think about how something like that is going to affect you in future - it may even have motivated me to carry on behaving the way I was,” a now 23-year-old Sam admits.
“It was the same with my friends - it was almost as if we were saying to people, ‘If you think that’s what we are, then that’s what we’ll be.’”
While Sam managed to avoid the schoolgates closing behind him permanently, it was a close call. He was suspended from school at least once during every year he was there, for reasons including fighting and not listening to his teachers.
On reflection, he credits those same teachers with “sticking their necks out” and helping him avoid permanent exclusion. However, he was careful not to show his appreciation at the time so as to maintain that all-important teenage currency - credibility.
Sam - who now recognises that he was also fortunate to have supportive parents - says there was no particular reason for him to have gone off the rails.
“I just don’t think I fitted into the education system. Every year, my parents and teachers would sit down with me and talk about where I was going - and then it would happen again,” he explains.
But it was a stint with the National Citizen Service and an encounter with some outreach workers he met on the street which Sam says “changed the way I was”.
“My stepdad always says something must have clicked in my head.”
It was a change of mind about education and a change of mindset about his attitude to life which ultimately saw Sam head to university to study youth and community work.
Last year, he walked out with a first class honours’ degree.
“It was a massive achievement for me, given what I’d been like at school. My family were made up - there was lots of crying.”
Sam has now spent almost twelve months doing the kind of youth work which he says helped him put his life on a more positive footing. But he is quick to point out that youth workers do not need the personal experience of being a troubled teen which he brings to the role.
“It’s more about providing a safe space for young people to express themselves and be honest. You need to respect them - you’re not going to get anywhere if you have an authoritative attitude.”
Of all the highlights of the past year, one of the biggest came when he returned to the school from which he came so close to being thrown out - to tell his own story of a life turned around.
“It was great going back - nobody expected me to be coming out of university with a first - they were gobsmacked,” Sam laughs.
“CRY FOR HELP”
Behind every excluded schoolchild lies a reason for the behaviour which caused them to be kicked out of class in the first place, according to a Lancashire youth worker.
Ryan Powell, youth work manager at Chorley Youth Zone, says young people sometimes just want someone to listen to them.
“They crave attention and are often not being heard, because of particular difficulties in their lives - they be witnessing domestic violence, for instance,” he explains.
“But their behaviour will usually be because something bad is happening to them - and it may even be more than one thing. It can be a cry for help.”
Ryan stresses the importance of building relationships with young people in that situation - particularly if the threat of exclusion risks destabilising one of the main constants in their lives. Even if a child’s dealings with their teachers appear troubled, they can also be crucial, he explains.
“During their daily interaction with school staff, young people will definitely develop relationships - and to cut them off would be a big shift in their lives.”
“Splitting them from their peers also has a social and emotional impact - young people need friends and role models. They need help to make the right choices.”
While Ryan says he understands that a school cannot let an individual pupil repeatedly disrupt the education of others, he fears that some headteachers may be turning too quickly to exclusion.
“When I was at school about 15 years ago, it felt like excluding a child was a last resort - but now it seems to be done too easily.
“It’s probably the pressure of getting results, but it does make things more difficult for the pupil who has been excluded - they will have to work twice as hard to achieve the same thing as their peers.”
SCHOOLS EXCLUDE “ONLY AFTER GREAT DEAL OF THOUGHT”
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:
“The rate of exclusions has risen nationally in recent years at a time of intense financial pressure on schools caused by the inadequacy of government funding.
“This financial pressure makes it more difficult for schools to provide early intervention designed to prevent behavioural issues escalating to the point of exclusion and it is therefore not surprising that exclusions have increased.
“Even so, the rate of permanent exclusions is still lower than it was in 2006/7.
“This reflects the fact that the decision to exclude is taken only after a great deal of thought and consideration, and according to detailed procedures which include a right to an independent review.
“It is sometimes necessary to exclude a pupil in the interests of other pupils who have a right to be able to learn in a safe, calm and orderly environment. Pupils who are excluded may also benefit from a fresh start elsewhere.”
“BASTIONS OF INCLUSION”
A parliamentary inquiry into school exclusions last year concluded that ‘zero tolerance’ policies on behaviour were causing children to be excluded for incidents which should have been handled differently.
The education select committee report also noted that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to be ejected from mainstream education and called for schools to be “bastions of inclusion”.
“There appears to be a lack of moral accountability on the part of many schools and no incentive to...retain pupils who could be classed as difficult or challenging,” it said.
MPs on the committee recommended the creation of a charter for excluded children - including an independent panel with the power to reinstate pupils.
The report acknowledged that specialist alternative provision was “the best outcome” in some cases - but criticised the fact that young people had to first be “branded a failure” in order to access it.
A government-ordered review into exclusions is expected to be published before Easter.
3844 - temporary and permanent exclusions of pupils aged 4-16 (2017/18)
314 - permanent exclusions from Lancashire secondary schools (2017/18)
192 - permanent exclusions from Lancashire secondary schools (2014/15)
64 percent - increase in permanent exclusions (2014-2018)
REASONS FOR BEING REMOVED FROM CLASS (2017/18)
Permanent exclusions from Lancashire secondary schools:
Persistent disruptive behaviour - 145
Physical assault against adult - 40
Drugs/alcohol - 27
Fixed-term exclusions from Lancashire secondary schools:
Behaviour - 1,423
Verbal abuse of staff - 663
Bullying - 20
Source: Lancashire County Council
TOP OF THE CLASS FOR ATTENDANCE
Secondary schools in the Lancashire County Council area had a 96 percent attendance rate during 2017/18, above the national average. Absence was lowest in Preston and Chorley and highest in Burnley and Pendle.
Chorley also had one of the lowest absence rates for primary schools, along with South Ribble. But Preston had the highest rate, together with Burnley.
Overall, primary schools in the county had a 94.9 percent attendance rate during 2017/18.
Absence has increased slightly in Lancashire over the past three years, in common with national trends.