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.”


Early years teachers should make sure children have eye tests says Sutton Trust

Nursery school teachers should make sure that children have eye tests as one in ten could be suffering from undiagnosed conditions, the Sutton Trust has said.

Three- and four-year-olds from deprived households are less likely to have seen an optician and their peers from wealthier families, the social mobility charity warned, adding that poor eyesight will prevent youngsters from learning to read.

A new report by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), which is part of the Sutton Trust, urges early years professionals to ensure that children have seen an optician and given glasses or the whatever it is they need before they start school at age four.

Read more at the Telegraph.

Education DataLab raises concerns about off-rolling, publishes re-weighted MAT league tables

FFT Education DataLab has published a series of posts looking at the impact of pupils who left mainstream secondary schools before the end of their secondary education on attainment statistics and league tables. The analysis shows that up to 7,700 students are left unaccounted for at the end of Year 11.

The think tank raises concern that in some cases pupils leaving school rolls may have been “off-rolled”, which it describes as “encouraged off the roll of a mainstream school in an informal exclusion in which the school’s best interests have trumped the pupil’s.” School league tables only measure those who remain on the school roll in January of Year 11, which some have argued creates an incentive to remove those pupils likely to lower results.

The researchers stress it is not possible to say from data alone where off-rolling has taken place, or put an overall figure on the amount that has taken place. They also stress their belief that only a small minority of school leaders are inclined to behave in this way.

The posts also look at MAT league tables recently published by the DfE, warning that they should not be taken at face value because, as mentioned above, KS4 results for a school only include those on roll in January of Year 11. The researchers apply two different methods of re-weighting to account for the proportion of time a pupil has spent at a particular school, an excerpt of which is reproduced below:The abandoned “Educational Excellence Everywhere” White Paper committed to changing the operation of school league tables so that mainstream schools would retain accountability for pupils sent to alternative provision or excluded. The recent “Creating opportunity for all” document on alternative provision also briefly mentioned this but did not commit to any changes.

Read the full series of posts here.

Government should accept “efficiency savings” are cuts, IFS tells Select Committee

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) was among the organisations giving evidence to the Education Select Committee this week.

Luke Sibieta, a research fellow at the IFS, said the recent announcement of a further £20bn for the NHS to 2024 “poses quite severe challenges” for the Department for Education.

As reported elsewhere in this newsletter the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has allegedly ruled out any extra spending on schools as well as several other areas in light of the NHS funding announcement. The Government has offered few details on how the £20bn commitment will be paid for.

When asked by the committee chair, Robert Halfon, how education could be affected by the announcement, Mr Sibieta said there could be tax rises, borrowing, or “spending cuts elsewhere….it clearly poses quite severe challenges for high-spending departments like education,” the funding expert told MPs.

Mr Sibieta said the government should accept that the £3bn of “efficiency savings” Ministers have asked schools to make amounts to “cuts”. “You should call it what it is – it is cutting spending. And it is very hard to work out what the impact of cutting spending will be on pupil outcomes later on down the line,” he said.

Researchers voice concerns over maths teacher shortages

A new report from the Nuffield Foundation has examined how schools are dealing with the shortage of Maths teachers. Authored by Rebecca Allen & Sam Sims of
FFT Education Datalab, it found:

  • The economic recovery has reduced maths teacher supply as employment opportunities have improved in the private sector.
  • At the same time, demand for maths teachers has increased thanks to the requirement for all pupils without an A*–C grade in GCSE maths to continue studying the qualification until the age of 18.
  • The report found that maths departments manage the shortages by deploying the least experienced teachers in Key Stage 3 classes. Experienced teachers with the most relevant qualifications are used to teach year groups where the external stakes are high: GCSE, A-Level and GCSE retakes (Key Stages 4 and 5).
  • This pattern is consistent across all schools, although those in disadvantaged areas are less likely to have teachers who fit this criteria, meaning that teacher shortages are having the biggest impact on pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • This means that the shortage of maths teachers is being felt most keenly at Key Stage 3 (and to some degree Key Stage 4). The report expresses concern that at this age young people’s attitudes to subjects and future study are still crystallising and if maths teaching and learning is not as engaging or tuned to individual needs as might be desired there are significant risks of adverse effects on pupil outcomes and progression.
  • It welcomes the Government’s “advanced maths premium”, which aims to increase post-16 participations by offering financial incentives to schools. However, it expresses concern about the potential impact on teacher retention of putting more pressure on those teaching maths at Key Stage.

Read the full report here.

Allow LAs to take over failing academies says think tank

A new report by think tank the Education Policy Institute (EPI) has examined the impact of academy chains and local authorities on pupil attainment.

Overall school performance: academy chains vs. local authorities

The report found little difference in the performance of schools in academy chains and local authorities. Both academy chains and local authorities featured at the very top of the EPI’s performance tables and at the very bottom.

At primary (KS2), the difference in pupil improvement between the highest and lowest performing groups is well over two points on the new national curriculum assessments – the equivalent of over a full term’s progress.

At secondary (KS4), the difference in pupil improvement between the highest and lowest performing groups is equivalent to half a grade in each GCSE subject.

The report makes the following recommendations: 

  • The Government should identify those academy chains where there is a significant risk of failure and build sponsor capacity in those geographical areas that are at risk from chain failure before it occurs.
  • Allowing high performing local authorities to take over schools from underperforming academy chains.
  • In some instances, it may be appropriate for schools to return to local authority oversight in the same way that a school may be moved to a high performing academy chain. This would provide additional capacity within the system and would go some way to reducing the time taken to move an academy.
  • Poorly performing local authorities should be challenged with school level interventions in some cases. They could be challenged through Regional Schools Commissioners to ensure that schools receive the support required. The Government should also consider how they can intervene at an individual school level in these areas.
  • The Government should continue to publish performance information at academy chain level and reconsider its decision not to publish comparable information on the performance of local authorities.

Read more on the EPI’s website here.

Computer game addiction classified as a disorder by WHO

Gaming addiction is to be listed as a mental health condition by the World Health Organization for the first time. Some school leaders have expressed concern about the contribution of excessive gaming to deterioration in quality of school work and poor attention during classes.

Its 11th International Classification of Diseases (ICD) will include the condition “gaming disorder”.

The draft document states:

“Gaming disorder is characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour (‘digital gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’), which may be online (i.e., over the internet) or offline, manifested by:

1) impaired control over gaming (e.g., onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context);

2) increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and

3) continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences. The behaviour pattern is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning. The pattern of gaming behaviour may be continuous or episodic and recurrent. The gaming behaviour and other features are normally evident over a period of at least 12 months in order for a diagnosis to be assigned, although the required duration may be shortened if all diagnostic requirements are met and symptoms are severe.”

Coverage of extreme cases of gaming addiction, in rare cases even resulting in death, have sparked concerns about the impact of excessive gaming on the physical and mental health of those affected. However, the true number of  “addicted” gamers remains unclear.

Gaming addiction has recently received government attention, particularly in East Asia. The South Korean Government has introduced a law banning access for children under 16 from online games between midnight and 06:00. In Japan, players are alerted if they spend more than a certain amount of time each month playing games and in China, internet giant Tencent has limited the hours that children can play its most popular games.

Chancellor: no new money for schools after £20 billion NHS pledge

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has told cabinet colleagues that finding an extra £20bn for the NHS – the so-called ‘Brexit dividend’ – means there will be no new money for schools, according to The Times.

The Prime Minster confirmed last weekend that NHS England would benefit from an annual 3.4 per cent rise up to 2024, equivalent to an extra £394 million per week in real terms.

Schools are facing a real-terms 4.6 per cent cut between 2015 and 2019, although spending is being maintained between 2017 and 2019.

The Chancellor’s alleged comments contrast with the Prime Minister’s previous statements that schools should receive extra funding when Britain leaves the EU. Speaking to the BBC in late March she said “Of course when we leave the European Union, we’ll no longer be spending vast sums of money, year in and year out, sending that money to the European Union, so there will be money available here in the UK to spend on our priorities like the NHS and schools.”

It has always been unclear, however, where this funding will be drawn from as the Government has already earmarked the UK’s entire net contribution to the EU budget for costs associated with leaving the EU and commitments to replace EU funding after Brexit.



Teachers in UK report growing ‘vocabulary deficiency’ 

Teachers are encountering increasing numbers of children with stunted vocabularies – haunting many pupils from primary to secondary school – and they fear “vocabulary deficiency” will hold them back educationally and socially.

In response some schools said they had adopted approaches such as highlighting pupils’ use of informal words such as “innit” and encouraging them to improve and widen their use of language.

A survey of 1,300 primary and secondary school teachers across the UK found that more than 60% saw increasing incidents of underdeveloped vocabulary among pupils of all ages, leading to lower self-esteem, negative behaviour and in some cases greater difficulties in making friends.

“This is significant because while language development is a key focus in early years education, relatively little research has been conducted into language deficit as children progress through secondary education,” the report’s authors noted.

Secondary school teachers said that vocabulary deficiency held back pupils’ progress not just in English but also across a range of subjects, including history and geography.

Those with a low vocabulary were also less likely to do well in national tests such as GCSEs, struggling to understand instructions and questions included in papers.

Northern schools blast RSCs in Children’s Commissioner report

A new report by the Children’s Commissioner says that Northern schools feel unsupported by their Regional Schools Commissioners, who fail to communicate “any plan” for the area.

Anne Longfield, who oversees children’s rights in England, found “very little evidence” of thorough work by RSCs, academy trusts or councils to tackle low pupil attainment at northern schools after a year-long investigation.

Secondary schools in the north are especially disappointing, compared to “impressive” primary schools, which currently get better progress than the national average.

But more than half of secondary schools serving the north’s poorest areas are rated less than ‘good’ by Ofsted, and many pupils drop out before sixth form or college.

The region’s RSCs were criticised by schools who spoke to the Children’s Commissioner. These are Janet Renou, the RSC for the North, Vicky Beer, the RSC for Lancashire and West Yorkshire, and John Edwards, the RSC for East Midlands and the Humber.

Read the full article in Schools Week.