Rise in permanent school exclusions show our education system is failing SEN pupils

Young boy on school bench next to lockers looking visibly upset after exclusions

Increase in permanent school exclusions indicate our education system is failing SEN pupils

According to government figures released last Thursday, the number of permanent exclusions from schools in England has gone up, with the equivalent of 35 children being expelled every school day. Children with special education and disability needs (SEND) are grossly over-represented in the exclusion figures.

The latest figures from the Department for Education (DfE) show that the total number of exclusions went up by just under 1,000 in 2015-16 compared with the previous year – up from 5,795 in 2014/15 to 6,685 – which is the equivalent of 35.2 exclusions a day, up from an average of 30.5.

Almost 6,700 children were permanently excluded from all primary, secondary and special schools in 2015/16, an increase of over 15% during the previous period, meaning the rate of exclusions has risen every year since 2012/13. Of those, 1,185 were primary age children, including 475 children who were seven or under, and 50 four-year-olds. The most common reason was persistently disruptive behaviour.

Pupils at secondary school account for eight in 10 of all expulsions (81%); 14-year-olds had the highest number of permanent exclusions at 1,715, with a higher exclusion rate among boys than girls.

Pupils with a black or mixed ethnic background were more likely to be excluded than their white counterparts who, in turn, were more likely to be excluded than children of Chinese and Asian heritage.

The DfE figures also show that the number of temporary or fixed-period exclusions has gone up from almost 303,000 last year to just under 340,000, with increases in both primary and secondary schools.

There was an increase in the proportion of children temporarily excluded in every age group other than among 17-year-olds. However, the rate of exclusion among those aged four and under grew at a faster rate than any other age category, rising from 2,350 in 2014-15 to 3,035 last year.

However, a report published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) the same day goes further and suggests a more disturbing trend that half of all pupils expelled from school were suffering from a recognised mental health problem and labels the state of UK education as a “burningly unjust system”.

Those who are permanently excluded find themselves at a significant disadvantage, with only one in a hundred going on to attain five good GCSEs, which are often used as a benchmark of academic success.

The majority will end up in prison, says the study, which estimates that of the 86,000-strong prison population, more than 54,000 were excluded at school.

The IPPR says its research lays bare the “broken system” facing excluded pupils. It flags up high levels of mental health issues among permanently excluded students – at least one in two, compared with one in 50 pupils in the wider population.

The think tank also highlights the disadvantages such children face, as those excluded are four times more likely to grow up in poverty and twice as likely to be living in care. They are also seven times more likely to have special educational needs than those who are not excluded, the report claims.

After exclusion, the study says there is a downward spiral of underachievement, with teachers in schools catering for excluded pupils twice as likely to have no educational qualifications.

Commenting on the DfE figures and IPPR report, Diana Dewing, Managing Director of Thrive Approach, said: “The statistics are truly sobering. With a better understanding of behaviour as a means of communication we have a chance to identify, and more ably respond to, the deeper needs being signalled. The results of early intervention and targeted support can be profound, and in many cases, life changing which benefits the children, their families and communities, and ultimately, society as a whole.”