New scheme succeeds in keeping excluded children in mainstream school

New scheme succeeds in keeping excluded children in mainstream school

The Guardian World News |by Liz Lightfoot

Martin Bacon at Swavesey village college in Cambridgeshire

Martin Bacon at Swavesey village college in Cambridgeshire. The scheme is being adopted by eight other authorities. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

At the age of 10, Finley was excluded from primary school and spent the next three years at a unit for children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, still unable to control his temper, and heading for the dole queue.

Now 16, he is at one of the most sought-after secondary schools in Cambridgeshire, has four early-entry GCSEs including maths and English, is expected to get another four this summer and will start a college course in music technology in September.

His life has been transformed and he says it is due to the staff at Swavesey village college, an over-subscribed comprehensive that gave him a place three years ago.

“I’m so grateful to this school because if I’d stayed at the other place, I would probably have left with nothing. It used to be an outburst of rage, but now I can see it coming. When I feel edgy and am feeling that something is going to go wrong, all I have to do is tell someone and I can go to the inclusion centre to do my work or even take five, get out and have a breather,” he says.

Finley is one of hundreds of children permanently excluded from schools in Cambridgeshire who are being brought back into mainstream education by a groundbreaking initiative that gives funding for alternative education directly to headteachers, instead of via the local authority as it did in the past. Rather than excluding children and expecting the local authority to educate them, schools now retain responsibility for the progress and results of those they take out of mainstream classes.

Schools should take ownership of every student, not show them the door, says Martin Bacon, Swavesey’s principal. “I take a very strong view that some students are square pegs in round holes and what schools have traditionally done is keep hitting at them until they splinter. We need to be much more creative in what we provide for our most vulnerable students. Inclusion is about achievement, not containment,” he says.

The scheme has turned the system on its head: Normally when a school excludes a pupil, parents are required to supervise their child for up to six days, at which point the local authority assumes responsibility for their education – and picks up the bill. Many end up in expensive local-authority-run pupil referral units (PRU) – schools for children who are too disruptive to be educated alongside their peers – where places cost upwards of £16,000 a year, compared to around £4,500 for a school place at a mainstream school.

Cambridgeshire has put the £5.4m it was spending on excluded children into school budgets. Working with other local schools (known as inclusion partnerships), headteachers now decide what kind of alternative education the pupils need and go out and buy it. Most recognise that a PRU is not necessarily the best place for a disruptive child; across England only 1.4% of PRU pupils achieve five or more good GCSE grades including maths and English against a national average of 57%. So shopping around for education that suits the needs of each individual child not only saves money, it also gives pupils a fighting chance of success.

The results have been dramatic. Since the scheme began four years ago, five of the six local authority-run PRUs have been closed as demand for places dropped from 650 in 2007 to 120 this year. Swavesey, and seven other schools in its South Cambridgeshire partnership, have decided not to send any pupil to a PRU because they risk leaving education with no qualifications.

Tom Jefford, who is responsible for participation and young people’s services across Cambridgeshire, says giving funding directly to schools has been a real game changer. ”It is not yet perfect but it is keeping many more children in the mainstream. Schools now feel accountable for difficult children, whereas before they didn’t. There is a lot of discussion about children in alternative education, whereas before they were out through the door. Sometimes it hasn’t taken that much to keep them at school.”

Working in partnership with local schools means resources can be stretched further. Swavesey village college gets £134,000 of Cambridgeshire’s £5.4m inclusion budget, of which 10% is held back by the partnership for joint developments, such as the employment of extra mental health and family workers.

“The schools in the partnership take collective responsibility for all the children in the area,” says Bacon, citing the recent example of a pupil facing exclusion, who moved to another school in the partnership for a fresh start. The originating school now pays the other £8,000 a year to fund one-to-one support from a teaching assistant.

Investment in quality vocational education is also crucial. If pupils find something that interests them, they are far more likely to engage with core curriculum subjects such as English and maths, says Bacon. Swavesey has well equipped hairdressing and beauty studios managed by a qualified professional.  Old bike sheds have been transformed into a motor workshop with a car and bikes for students to work on and there is a centre for teaching electrical circuits, a painting and decorating studio and an area for bricklaying

Having access to additional funds has enabled the school to employ specialists such as Rebecca Crow, the inclusion centre manager, who has a small staff and a bank of qualified teachers who come in part-time to work one-to-one with pupils.

Clearly this is an approach that could work in other areas. Around 5,200 secondary-aged children are permanently excluded across England and most of them end up in pupil referral units. A recent report by Maggie Atkinson, the children’s commissioner, claims the numbers could be far higher because some pupils are being illegally and unofficially banned from classes.

What is happening in Cambridgeshire is being closely monitored by the Department for Education and when schools return from the Easter break next week, the model will be adopted by around 300 schools in eight other authorities across England as part of a national inclusion pilot organised by the department.

The government’s eagerness to be involved could be down to fears that the increase in self-governing academies and free schools, which are not accountable to local authorities, may lead to an increase in permanent exclusions.

In addition, in the past parents have had the right to appeal against a permanent exclusions to an independent panel (made up of headteachers, parents and other members of the local community) that had the power to force schools to take pupils back if they felt they had been unfairly excluded. But under new legislation, introduced as part of the 2011 Education Act, independent appeal panels no longer have this power.

Not everyone is convinced that giving funding for alternative education directly to schools is the answer. The teacher unions are keeping a close eye on the policy, anxious that the approach, which will inevitably result in having more challenging pupils in mainstream schools, could disrupt lessons and pose health and safety risks.

But pupils back the policy. “Miss Crow is a legend, she always listens to us. Without her we would have been kicked out long ago and it’s better to be in school than out of it,” says one 14-year-old pupil at Swavesey.

Finley agrees: “From first-hand experience, I know that excluding people doesn’t do any good. I know people who will leave with nothing. There may be a few who wouldn’t succeed in a mainstream environment, but most could be integrated, bit by bit, as they did with me.”

Pupil behaviour worse since abolition of caning, warn teachers

Pupil behaviour worse since abolition of caning, warn teachers

The Guardian World News |by Jessica Shepherd

School canes

School canes being made during the last century. Corporal punishment was outlawed in schools in 1987. Photograph: Hulton Getty/Getty Images

Children’s behaviour has grown considerably worse since the abolition of corporal punishment 25 years ago, teachers have warned.

Successive governments have failed to introduce an effective way to deal with misbehaviour since striking pupils with a cane or slipper was outlawed in 1987, the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) heard.

Teachers said detentions fail to deter pupils, while exclusions and suspensions are only handed out in the most serious cases because inspectors take a dim view of schools that regularly exclude children.

“The forms of discipline currently available to teachers for dealing with inappropriate behaviour remain totally inadequate,”Julian Perfect, a London teacher told the conference.

Perfect said while he did not support the reintroduction of corporal punishment, it was worth noting there had been “no attempt to introduce any new method of sanction into schools … that has the same effect as a deterrent for inappropriate behaviour as corporal punishment had.”

Children’s behaviour has deteriorated further over the past few years, he said.

“Persistent, low-level rudeness and disruption seems to have become a fact of life in education today and no longer raises eyebrows or seems to merit special attention,” Perfect said, quoting a secondary school teacher who did not want to be named.

Ministers – past and present – have failed to suggest “any novel methods for disciplining pupils” that give teachers’ “meaningful authority”, Perfect said.

The Education Act 2011 gives teachers the right to search pupils for banned items, such as mobile phones. The law also removed a requirement to give parents a day’s notice if their child was handed a detention.

Mary Bousted, ATL’s general secretary, warned that pupils were becoming spoilt “little Buddhas”.

She said parents were failing to define boundaries for their children. “Far too many children are waited on hand and foot. They don’t make their beds or do the hoovering,” she said. “It doesn’t do them any favours if you make them little Buddhas. It certainly doesn’t help them in school because they end up not understanding their responsibilities to other children.”

She added that children had begun to believe their teachers were there to “serve them”.

A poll of 814 teachers, conducted by ATL and published last week, found a third had been hit or kicked by a student in the last academic year.

Academy Schools Federation Hopes To Run College For Profit

Academy Schools Federation Hopes To Run College For Profit

The Guardian World News |by Jeevan Vasagar

barnfield federation

Pete Birkett, chief executive of Barnfield Federation. The federation hopes to manage a state-run college for profit. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

A federation that runs a chain of academy schools plans to become the first in the country to run a state further education college as a profit-making business. The change– which is to be put before the college’s governing board at Easter – would mean surplus cash from the college could be used to pay a dividend to shareholders.

The Barnfield Federation, which runs four schools in Luton, wants to be the first academy backer to take advantage of a provision in the Education Act 2011 that allows further education colleges to run on a for-profit basis. Academy schools are not at the moment run for profit. But the federation is exploring doing so in future if the law is changed to allow it.

Barnfield’s chief executive, Pete Birkett, is looking at creating a new business model for schools by establishing a private company that would raise funds from private equity and pay dividends to shareholders.

Public funds from the Department for Education would be paid into a company limited by guarantee, which does not have shareholders.

As a first step, Birkett is proposing to set up this model for the Barnfield further education (FE) college, which sponsors three schools in Luton. Shareholders would receive a portion of the college’s financial surplus.

Birkett said: “As legislation changes, we could possibly bring in the academies. I can’t do that until there is permission to do that.

“If we can make it successful in the FE sector, there’s no reason we can’t make it successful in the schools.”

The proposed model marks the latest step in the privatisation of public services under the coalition, after the Guardian disclosed recently that two police authorities had invited private security firms to bid for services including criminal investigations.

Birkett said: “We’re ready to step up a level – modernise public service thinking and delivery.

“We’ll be able to attract third-party investment in our buildings and infrastructure, which is what we need.

“I think there’ll be opportunities to review existing terms and conditions and say, are they fit for purpose, for the 21st century?

“So, traditionally we’ve had three-term years – do we want to continue with three terms a year? Is the time now right to make changes that will deliver improved outcomes in a more efficient way?”

Barnfield is also proposing to use the new model to provide incentives to staff through share ownership.

Birkett said he had contacted a private equity group with an interest in education to discuss the proposals. “The response to that, yes, they believed there’d be a lot of interest from private investors.”

Regulatory changes in the Education Act which have gone largely unnoticed allow FE colleges to be privatised.

The new model gave greater flexibility over how to spend surplus cash, Birkett argued. “Why do we want to sit on lots of reserves when we could be spending them throughout the organisation? There are restrictions on what we can use reserves for – we can’t give staff a pay award. But in a company you decide.”

Birkett argued that running a school as a business created a strong incentive to raise standards and attract more pupils.

“If you’ve got a school that has capacity for 1,000 students, and it’s only got 500 because it’s failing, its income is only half what it should be. If you can create good schools, you’re going to be filling to capacity and you can invest. And if we can raise equity through other means, then that’s got to be good, that’s what we’re trying to do.”

The Conservative thinktank Policy Exchange has argued in a recent report that private companies should be allowed to set up and run schools under a social enterprise model that would give employees a share of ownership and re-invest a portion of any profit back into the school.

The deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, ruled out profit-making in state schools in a speech last year. However, the education secretary, Michael Gove, a former chairman of Policy Exchange, has approved a free school in Suffolk that will outsource management to a commercial company in a 10-year contract worth£21m.

Birkett said he expected the government to relax barriers to profit-making in future. At present, academy schools are run independently but are still classed as public sector bodies. Their surpluses cannot go to shareholders.

Birkett said: “I see that happening in the near future. If you look at fee-paying independent schools most of them are successful, so why couldn’t that happen in the public sector? Why couldn’t we use the fee-paying school approach to drive standards?”

According to the Institute for Public Policy Research, a left-leaning thinktank, there is only “weak” evidence to support the claim that commercial providers will raise standards in schools more rapidly than the existing mix.

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