Illegal Exclusions: In No Other Area Would Ministers Be So Slow To Act

Illegal Exclusions: In No Other Area Would Ministers Be So Slow To Act

The Guardian World News

Some young people are disproportionately affected by school exclusions

Some young people are disproportionately affected by school exclusions. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

The Children’s Commissioner’s report on school exclusions is not the first report to highlight this vexed issue, and no doubt won’t be the last. It confirms much that we already know. Although the number of exclusions is relatively small, the consequences are significant, with those excluded being more likely to underachieve, be unemployed later on or enter the criminal justice system.

The report also graphically reminds us of the disproportionate impact on specific groups of young people. To characterise the extremes, poor black boys with a special educational need are 168 times more likely to be excluded from school than white girls without special needs from more affluent backgrounds.

The report reminds us of our failure to get a grip on this in the past. But it also has new things to tell us, both in the evidence it presents and in some of its recommendations.

With most other challenges facing our education system –literacy, numeracy or the national anxiety over the fact that four out of 10 young people don’t get five good GCSEs including English and maths, for example – there is clarity of expectation and a record of progress on which to build. Not so for exclusions. The number of children excluded might fluctuate each year, but it’s hard to argue that we have made any meaningful progress. It is not a lack of political attention; successive governments have changed the law, invested money and called for progress. Neither is it because schools or parents do not realise its importance.

At its heart, our attitude to exclusions has never really been clear and successive governments have sent out mixed messages. At the start of its term in office, the last government set out its wish to see a fall in the number of exclusions. But it backtracked rapidly when the policy was seen as removing headteachers’ powers to instil good behaviour. Over the years, schools with high levels of exclusions have, in turn, been criticised for abandoning pupils, and praised for being tough on discipline.

We hide behind some obvious truths. Of course, heads need the authority to exclude; it is essential that the bad behaviour of a few should not stop others from learning; sometimes a move does give a child the fresh start they need.

Yet lining up behind these ideas does not make an effective policy. The report from the Children’s Commissioner makes uncomfortable reading, but three points, in particular, deserve to be addressed.

First, there is no guidance for schools on good practice in managing or commissioning provision for pupils with challenging behaviour. If we spent as much time and effort in understanding successful alternative provision as we do in fiddling with the appeals system, we might make more progress.

Second, we must confront the evidence that shows the significant over-representation of vulnerable groups, such as those with special needs. If we don’t, the ambition of the government – and of us all – to close the social class attainment gap will not be achieved.

Third, and perhaps most significant, the report presents evidence that a small number of schools use “illegal” means of exclusion. There have long been rumours that some children are out of school without it ever being recorded as such, but the report, for the first time, cites evidence.

Whatever the frustrations or pressures on schools, this can never be acceptable and the allegations should be taken seriously. In no other area of school activity would the government or Ofsted be so slow to act on evidence of illegal activity.

No one pretends that these are easy issues. There are often conflicting loyalties and a lack of expert resources to support challenging children. All this, in a context of a national accountability system that gives schools little recognition of the progress they often do make with children with poor behaviour, and a national policy that has never been sure whether success would be more or fewer exclusions.

The report is a reminder that, despite our best efforts, the work to develop an approach to exclusions that suits all pupils and all schools is very much unfinished business.

One In Seven Pupils Miss Out On First Choice Secondary School

One in seven pupils miss out on first choice secondary school

The Guardian World News |by Jessica Shepherd

Schoolchildren in classroom

About 74,000 children who applied to start secondary school in September did not get a place at their first choice school. Photograph: Rex Features

Around one in seven children in England missed out on a place at their first preference secondary school this year, official figures show.

Statistics published by the Department for Education reveal that 14.7% of the nearly 504,000 11-year-olds who applied to start secondary school this September did not get into the schools their parents wanted.

This is the equivalent of about 74,000 11-year-olds –5,000 fewer than last year. The slight improvement is in part due to 1.7% fewer applications, although the number of places has remained the same.

Inner London had the lowest proportion of pupils getting their first choice school – 65.8% – while outer London was marginally higher at 68.4%. The north-east of England had the highest proportion of first preference offers at 95.1%.

In some parts of London, competition was particularly tough. Just 53.5% of 11-year-olds in Wandsworth, south London, got their first preference. In Hammersmith and Fulham, in west London, and Southwark, in central London, the figures were 54.4% and 55.9% respectively.

Families were told at the start of this month whether their child had a place. Across the country, 95.9% were offered a place at one of the three schools they listed as their preferred choices. This is a rise of 0.3 percentage points on last year and continues a rising trend.

The number of secondary school pupils under 16 has been in decline since 2004 and is expected to decrease further until 2016.

Nick Gibb, the schools minister, said parents faced an extremely competitive and stressful process for securing a place for their children. “We want to ease this pressure by creating more good school places, which is the driver behind all our reforms to the education system.”

Gibb said the government was allowing the best schools to expand and the growth of academies and free schools meant parents had a wider choice of good schools.

Headteachers Admit Illegally Excluding Pupils

Headteachers admit illegally excluding pupils

The Guardian World News |by Jeevan Vasagar

students

The government should conduct research to identify the full extent of unlawful exclusions, a report says. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Headteachers have admitted illegally excluding pupils from school, including one “extreme” case in which children in their final GCSE year were sent home at Christmas and told not to return until their exams.

A report by England’s children’s commissioner found “clear evidence” of illegal exclusions. These included cases where heads coerced children into changing schools or informally excluded them until a meeting had taken place with their parents.

The government should conduct research to identify the full extent of unlawful exclusions, and recommend measures to prevent a“small proportion” of schools continuing to act in this way, the report says.

David Wolfe, a barrister specialising in education law, told the inquiry that in some cases, academies were attempting to avoid scrutiny of their exclusions by appeal panels, and refusing to hear appeals from parents.

Wolfe said some academies were refusing to comply with official guidance on exclusions. He also claimed some were refusing to admit children with statements.

The report quotes Wolfe as saying that this is the case with a substantial number of schools and is “symptomatic of a pattern of behaviour, rather than being limited to a few bad apples”.

Maggie Atkinson, the children’s commissioner for England, said:“For the first time schools are on record saying they had illegally excluded pupils. Due to the informal nature of such exclusions it is difficult to know how widespread this practice is but it is worth further examination.

“Our report recognises that exclusion may in rare cases be a necessary last resort. It should happen only if a child is a danger to his or herself or others, or when learning is so disrupted that only exclusion is possible. But all exclusions must be within the law.”

The post of children’s commissioner was established as an independent champion for young people in England under the Children’s Act 2004, the legislation brought in after the Victoria Climbié inquiry.

Primary Schools To Rise To 1,000 Pupils In Places Shortage

Primary schools to rise to 1,000 pupils in places shortage

BBC |March 14, 2012

Primary playground

By Sean Coughlan BBC News education correspondentA growing number of primary schools will have 1,000 pupils or more – as extra classes are added to cope with a rapid increase in the birth rate.Instead of one or two classes in each year group, there are plans for some schools to have six forms in each year.

The Local Government Association says councils would “step up to the plate” to ensure enough primary places.

The Department for Education says it is providing £4bn for areas “facing the greatest pressure”.

It is also relaxing building regulations so that new schools can occupy a smaller space – secondary schools by 15% and primary schools by 5% – but the DfE says this has nothing to do with the shortage of places.

Supersize schoolsThe rise of supersize primary schools reflects urgent efforts to find places for the surging numbers of pupils – with official figures showing that an extra 455,000 places will be needed in England by 2015.

If expansion proposals are implemented it would mean Birmingham, Brent, Waltham Forest, Newham, Redbridge, Hillingdon, Bromley and Barking could all have examples of primary schools with capacity for about 1,000 pupils and in some cases up to 1,200.

There are many more schools which will be expanded to take 90 or 120 pupils in each year, with proposals for some schools to double their intakes.

Brent Council, in north London, has published a report showing it will need another 23 classrooms.

It already has more than 500 primary age children which are not placed in any school – enough to fill a traditional size school.

An earlier report included a shortlist of four primary schools which would have capacity for more than 1,000 pupils by 2014-15.

A spokesman said Brent Council was doing “absolutely everything it can, working closely with local schools, to create more spaces… but it is a real challenge”.

Spikes in populationEarlier this week, John Howson, a research fellow at Oxford University’s education department, described the shortage of primary places as the “biggest problem” facing the school system.

The shortage is not only in the biggest cities – there are pressures in places such as Winchester, Bristol and Bournemouth.

But compounding the challenge is that the pattern of population growth is very uneven – with a surplus of places in some parts of the country.

There are even big differences within cities. In Birmingham, the birth rate rose by 25% between 2000 and 2007.

But within this average, there are wards with a primary-age population projected to rise by more than 50% and others where there is zero increase expected.

In response to such local pressures, there are plans for Nansen Primary in Birmingham to expand from 630 pupils to 1,260 – which means moving to six forms per year group.

There have been many different local proposals to finding enough space for extra pupils – including temporary classrooms, converting empty shops, developing split-site schools and in Barking there was a suggestion for pupils using a building in different shifts.

Parental choice

But it is also putting pressure on parental choice.

In response, Tower Hamlets in east London is considering changes to its admissions policy for next year, including a system which would recognise how far children would have to travel to their next available place if local schools were full up.

It also means a distinct change in the image of a typical primary school.

Between 1950 and 2010, the average size of a primary school in the UK remained relatively constant, in a narrow range between 180 and 220 pupils.

There were also 5,500 more primary schools in the early 1970s, when there was last such a demand for places.

David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, says much bigger primary schools are now going to become“less unusual”.

But Mr Simmonds, deputy leader of Hillingdon Council, is confident that local authorities will be able to cope with the pressure.

The decision to expand existing schools in urban areas, where land is scarce and expensive, is often the most practical way of creating more places, he says. In rural and suburban areas, there might be more opportunity for new schools.

The response of parents can vary, he says, in what is an“emotive” subject.

Big is beautiful?

Parents wanting to get children into an oversubscribed school might welcome the creation of more places – while those at the school might be less enthusiastic about such major changes to pupil numbers.

There can also be practical questions such as parking congestion around schools, he says.

The response from parents to previous stories on the BBC News website also shows that there are supporters of bigger schools – with emails arguing that they provide the capacity for more activities, sports and specialist staff.

Head teachers’ leader Russell Hobby backed the expansion of existing schools as the best response to the places shortage.

“However, there are limits to how far a primary can grow and still retain the ethos that makes it special and welcoming to young children. Primary heads are more than capable of handing the logistics, but it is the culture and pastoral care that are at issue,” said Mr Hobby, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers.

“Primaries can run well at 500 or even 700 pupils, but then you’re stretching it.”

The shortage of primary places also runs across political fault lines.

Local authorities have a responsibility to ensure enough places – but the government has a “presumption” that new schools should be free schools or academies, outside of local authority control.

This has raised questions about whether the political investment in free schools is at odds with the strategic need to meet the demand for places.

Mr Simmonds, a Conservative, says councils should work with potential free school providers and that there should not be any delays as a result.

But he says it is clear that tackling this places shortage is going to be a priority.

“For the next five years, almost all the capital spending will be on primary places,” he said.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “We’re creating thousands more places to deal with the impact of soaring birth rates on primary schools. We’re more than doubling targeted investment at areas facing the greatest pressure on numbers – over£4billion in the next four years.

“No-one is saying it will be easy balancing demand for places with retaining the sort of character and ethos that parents want. Our job is to put the capital and the policies to help councils and schools to make the right decisions.”

Church schools shun poorest pupils

Church schools shun poorest pupils

The Guardian World News |by Jessica Shepherd 5 MARCH 2012

st john's primary school in croydon.

St John’s Church of England primary school in Croydon, south London, has 7% of pupils eligible for free meals. The proportion in the borough is 24%. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian

England’s faith state schools are failing to mirror their local communities by shunning the poorest pupils in their area, analysis by the Guardian of the latest government figures shows.

The Roman Catholic church, which has repeatedly insisted its schools are inclusive, comes out particularly badly in the examination of data published by the Department for Education (DfE) last month and in December. Three-quarters of Catholic primary and secondary schools have a more affluent mix of pupils than their local area.

The figures also reveal that most Church of England (CofE) primary schools have an intake that is untypically affluent and more middle-class than a year ago. The findings will fuel claims that faith schools have been picking pupils from well-off families by selecting on the basis of religion.

The Guardian analysed the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals – a key indicator of poverty – in each of England’s 19,534 state, non-selective primary and secondary schools. All schools designated for children with special needs were taken out.

The schools have been grouped according to whether they are affiliated to the CofE, the Catholic church or have no religious character. The number of state-funded Muslim and Jewish schools is too small to form a meaningful group – however, the 11 state-funded Muslim schools in England are collectively more reflective of their community, with 67% of primaries and 60% of secondaries having more than the local authority average of free school meal pupils. The 36 Jewish state schools on average have less representation of pupils on free school meals than their local area. There are many Christian schools connected to other denominations, but the data does not specify which denomination.

The proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals in each CofE, Catholic or non-religious school was compared with the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals in their local authority and among all the comparable schools in the same postcode area.

It is well-known that the average proportion of deprived pupils in faith schools is lower than it is for all schools in England. However, it has not until now been clear whether this is a facet of the areas they serve. Our analysis shows for the first time the extent to which faith and non-faith schools reflect – or fail to reflect – the proportion of poor pupils in their area.

The vast majority of Catholic primary and secondary schools fail to mirror the proportion of poor pupils living in their community, the data reveals. The Catholic church has fought successful battles to retain control of admissions to its schools.

Some 73% of Catholic primaries and 72% of Catholic secondaries have a lower proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals than the average for the local authority.

It is the same for CofE primary and secondary schools. Some 74% of these primaries and 65.5% of secondaries have a smaller proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals than is average for the local authority.

In contrast, non-religious schools tend to reflect their neighbourhoods. Half (51%) of non-religious primaries and 45% of non-religious secondaries have a smaller proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals than is representative for their local authority.

Faith schools fared no better when examined at a more local level. We compared the proportion of poor pupils in each postcode with the proportion of poor pupils in faith schools and non-faith schools studying in that postcode. The data shows 76% of Catholic primaries and 65% of Catholic secondaries have a smaller proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals than is representative of their postcode. This is the case for 63.5% of CofE primaries and 40% of CofE secondaries.

Non-religious primaries and secondaries are far more likely to mirror the proportion of poor pupils in their postcode – just 47% of non-faith primaries and 29% of non-faith secondaries take a smaller proportion of free school meals than is representative for their postcode.

Anna Vignoles, a professor of the economics of education at the Institute of Education, University of London, said the Guardian’s findings could be explained by the fact that faith schools draw their pupils from their faith communities, which are not necessarily located in the same postcode or area as their school.

A study by Dr Rebecca Allen and Professor Anne West of the Institute of Education and the London School of Economics, published in 2011, showed that middle class parents are more likely to apply to faith schools – and that the admissions procedures there are easier for them to navigate.

Our data also shows that CofE primary schools are increasingly serving the better-heeled in their communities.

Whereas this year 74% of the church’s primaries have a smaller proportion of the poorest pupils than their local authority, the year before 72% did.

At a more local level, the same is the case. This year, 63.5% of the church’s primaries have a smaller proportion of the poorest pupils than their postcode, compared to 60% last year.

Maeve McCormack, policy manager at the Catholic Education Service, said Catholic schools appeared not to reflect their communities in our data because their catchment areas were geographically wider than the postcode or local authority where the schools were situated.

She said separate figures from the DfE showed 18.6% of pupils at Catholic primary schools live in the 10% most deprived areas of England, compared with only 14.3% of primary school pupils nationally. Some 17% of pupils at Catholic schools lived in the 10% most deprived areas compared to 12% of pupils nationally.

The DfE calculates the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals based on how many families apply for this benefit. McCormack said that because there was a “cultural stigma” attached to claiming free school meals, fewer than the expected number of pupils were reported to be on the benefit.

A spokesman for the CofE said local authorities controlled the admissions of more than half its schools. The church rejected the idea that those schools that controlled their own admissions were failing to mirror their local communities.

“The current government agenda to narrow the differential attainment between groups was the priority of the founders of church school education 200 years ago, when providing a basic education for the poor was not seen as a state responsibility,” the spokesman said.

“This remains the driver for all that we continue to do today. That is why the church is the largest sponsor of academies, mostly in deprived areas where the schools had a history of under-performance.

“These academies have opened up new opportunities and new life chances for nearly 45,000 young people, all living in disadvantaged areas – a clear example of the outworking of the church’s mission in education.”

Richy Thompson from the British Humanist Associationsaid the data gave “further cause for concern that allowing religious discrimination within our state system exacerbates socioeconomic inequality as well as being religiously and ethnically divisive”.

He said: “We urge the government to end faith-based selection in all state-funded schools.”

Our analysis found some particularly egregious examples of schools – both Catholic and CofE – that take far fewer numbers of pupils eligible for free school meals than is representative of their area.

In St John’s Church of England primary in Croydon, south London, just 7% of pupils are eligible for free school meals, compared with 29% across the postcode and 24% across the local authority.

Meanwhile, at St James’s Catholic primary school in Richmond, south-west London, only 1% of pupils are eligible for free school meals, compared with 10% across the postcode and local authority.

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