Stockton Borough Council raises concerns over “unprecedented” levels of exclusions

Stockton Borough Council’s Children and Young People Select Committee has raised concerns over “unprecedented” levels of Fixed Term Exclusions (FTE) and “significantly higher” cases of permanent exclusions in the borough in a draft final report considered at the Committee’s 27 June meeting.

The report states that the behaviour management systems adopted by some academy converter schools are the key driver of this increase.

Councillors also mention the pressure rising exclusions are placing on alternative provision, funding in the Council’s high needs block, the high numbers of in-year transfers and the rising numbers of parents electing to educate their children at home.

Rising Exclusions

Pages 15-17 sets out the exclusions data leading up to 2017-18, which shows increased exclusions in all categories, including for pupils with SEN Support or Education Health and Care Plans. It notes that the SEN and Engagement Service would intervene to ensure pupils that have SEND and an EHCP in place were not permanently excluded. The table showing FTEs is shown below:

Source: Review of Inclusion in Schools, Draft Final Report, Children and Young People Select Committee, Stockton Borough Council

Members suggest that:

“The rise has been largely due to the introduction of new behaviour management policies adopted by Academy converter schools. In particular, the ‘Consequences’ behaviour policy. The Trusts responsible for implementing this policy are Outwood Grange Academy Trust and Northern Education Trust which runs North Shore. Ingleby Manor Free School, under Delta Academy Trust, has also recently adopted the same policy.”

According to the report:

“The Consequences Policy is based on a system whereby following misbehaviour, which can in some cases be viewed as relatively minor, pupils are subject to a sanction that they must complete/comply with otherwise they progress to the next level of sanction. Pupils unwilling or unable to complete the sanctions will be unable to avoid the next sanction. Ultimately this can lead to time spent in the Consequences Room which includes a number of booths in which the pupil cannot see anyone else in the Room aside from the supervising teacher. If the session in the Consequences Room is not completed satisfactorily, this leads to a Fixed Term Exclusion.”

The Committee states that the aforementioned “Consequences” behaviour policy can include the use of a “Consequences Room”. Appendix 5 describes councillors’ visit to Outwood Academy Bishopsgarth, where they visited the Consequences Room. It states:

“Failure to complete detentions or misbehaviour in matrix, see pupils receive a C5 which is a session in the Consequences Room.

We visited the Consequence room which had 4 children in it at the time of the visit. We spoke to the four students in there. For one it was his first visit, he understood fully why he was there. Again there was an acceptance from all that they had broken the rules and been given opportunities to resolve their problem but had chosen not to do so. Some had been in the Room several times. They were all provided with work/reading.

It was not seen as a pleasant environment, the room was perceived as being very dark and dismal by those on the visit with the 12 cubicles painted in matt black. Once in a booth, the pupils could only see the supervising teacher, and not each other.”

Page 24 mentions with approval some amendments made to the Consequences approach, on a pilot basis, at Outwood Academy Bishopsgarth during the period of the review. However, it adds that councillors remain concerned about the overall approach to behaviour and points out that the number of children in the borough covered by such policies continues to grow.

Response of Outwood Grange Academies Trust and Northern Education Trust

Representatives from North Shore Academy/Northern Education Trust, and Outwood Academy Bishopsgarth/Outwood Trust attended the Committee to give their perspective.

Councillors note that both Outwood Academy Bishopsgarth and North Shore Academy have had challenging histories of low attainment.

The Trusts highlighted to the Committee their determination to set high standards and expectations for all children and argued that their behaviour policies are a crucial part of this approach. Setting a strict approach was seen as being sometimes necessary if a school needed to be rapidly improved.

The report goes on to set out in more detail the response of the representatives:

“Children were described as not being able to access their learning if the school had an overall behaviour problem, and it was reported that the schools were seeing pupils returning to school who had previously stayed away. Although policies were in place to ensure standards existed around uniform and make-up for example, it was highlighted that it was the refusal to remove offending items etc when asked by senior staff that was the basis of sanctions and exclusions, not the wearing of items themselves.

There was general agreement that permanent exclusions should be avoided in Year 11 wherever possible.

North Shore gave examples of steps taken to provide for variety of needs including Personalised Learning Centre which has access to mental health support, additional Teaching Assistant investment in specific cases, and £250k investment in alternative education. Pupils on the school’s Vulnerable Child Register were now attending were they had not previously.

It was noted that other schools within the Outwood Trust (Bydales Academy) had been rated as Outstanding by Ofsted for Personal Development, Behaviour and Welfare, and attendance had significantly improved at Outwood Academy Acklam.

During the visits to the schools, which took place with no advance notice, Members saw that the atmosphere in the schools was calm and there was no obvious misbehaviour taking place. Several examples of support in place for students were in evidence, and further details can be seen in the reports of the visits.”

However, from comments made elsewhere in the report it appears that the Committee remained unconvinced that the behaviour management systems used by the Trusts in question are necessarily the best approach. For example, the report quotes the Association of Directors of Children’s Services as saying:

“inflexible school behaviour policies too often do not allow for reasonable adjustments to be made when children have previously, or are currently experiencing, adversity. The growth in ‘zero tolerance’ policies, particularly (but not only) in academy schools, mean exclusion is almost inevitable for any learner who struggles to meet stringent expectations deployed in the name of ‘consistency’”.

The report then adds:

“From the evidence and data seen by the Committee, Members would be in agreement with this statement.”

A number of matters the Committee says are related to rising exclusions are also highlighted:

  • There are very high numbers of in-year transfers in Stockton and high numbers of managed moves. The report suggests many in-year transfers are linked to the threat of exclusions and managed moves are increasing as students find it hard to succeed with some behaviour management systems.
  • Elective Home Education (EHE) is also rising and it is suggested there is a correlation between this and rising exclusions. Councillors say there is evidence it is being used as an alternative to exclusion.
  • The Bishopton Pupil Referral Unit has reached full capacity due to the rise in permanent exclusions, impairing the quality of the support that can be
    offered to children who are permanently excluded. Schools have also made representations to the Committee to say that this has restricted their behaviour management options.
  • Rising exclusions are also seen to be putting pressure on funding. The report mentions that additional places purchased from other PRUs led to an additional cost of £200k above the £500k allocated in the 2017-18 budget for the autumn term only. It goes on to say: “Funding for the PRU and alternative provision comes from the High Needs Block which also funds SEND services. This budget was already under strain due to the increasing numbers and complexity of cases in the Borough. This means that the number of exclusions is having a negative impact on the availability of support for children with special needs across every school.”

The report concludes that:

“The Committee remains very concerned at the increasing use of fixed term and permanent exclusion in some schools and Multi Academy Trusts (MATs).

In conducting this review, the Committee is aware of the limited extent to which it can influence the behavioural policies of MATs, and that these responsibilities lie with the Regional Schools Commissioner and with the Department for Education.

The Committee has however identified a number of basic outcomes which we feel are important and inter-related. These relate directly to the scope of this review, and which we believe should form the basis of a school system in Stockton: a) We believe all children have a right to an education that enables them to achieve their potential b) We believe that schools should respect children as individuals and treat them in accordance with their needs c) We believe schools should avoid excluding children wherever possible, as this ultimately leads to poorer outcomes for children d) We believe schools should value, celebrate and promote a sense of achievement, enabling happy, healthy and aspirational young people.

The Committee is also particularly concerned regarding the limited nature of Local Authority powers in relation to children in home education, in addition to any links between the increasing numbers and the rise in exclusions.”

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