It’s disappointing that Ofsted doesn’t do more to check on maintained schools and academies use of internal and external exclusion. Potentially there are 4 ways this could be done currently, both at school level and at local authority level, although there are drawbacks to each:
1/ During a routine school inspection (also known as a section 5 inspection)
2/ During a short unannounced school inspection (also known as a section 8 inspection, “no formal designation” or “unannounced behaviour” inspection)
3/ During an inspection of local authority school improvement services
4/ During an inspection of local authority children’s services, children in need of help and protection
There is also a strong case for Ofsted undertaking a thematic review of exclusions which I will touch on at the end of this post.
1/ Routine School Inspection
Section 5 inspections are definitely a way to get Ofsted looking at exclusion practice.
Inspectors will assess the school’s use of exclusion, including the rates, patterns and reasons for exclusion, as well as any differences between groups of pupils. Inspectors will gather the views of parents, staff, governors and other stakeholders (page 51, Ofsted School Inspection Handbook September 2015)
This is what Ofsted will request at the start of the inspection:
records and analysis of exclusions, pupils taken off roll, incidents of poor behaviour and any use of internal isolation (page 16, Ofsted School Inspection Handbook September 2015)
This means Ofsted could – if it chose – track what happened to a particular pupil before removal from roll, including where parents felt they had no choice but to home educate. It also means Ofsted could track the experience of a pupil who was being continually “parked” or spending the majority of time in internal exclusion, as I wrote about here.
There is a drawback. It’s not immediately apparent how some parents could get their message across to Ofsted. Apart from Parent View, Ofsted only mentions parents of current pupils being able to speak to inspectors, and Parent View doesn’t allow for free text comments; instead parents are simply asked to tick boxes if they agree with statements such as ‘My child is happy at this school; My child feels safe at this school; This school ensures the pupils are well behaved; This school deals effectively with bullying; This school is well led and managed; This school responds well to any concern I raise …’
In a routine school inspection Ofsted will also look at pupils who have been directed off-site:
Inspectors must consider the progress of pupils who attend off-site alternative provision for all or part of the week and the school’s own records of these pupils’ progress (Page 57, Ofsted School Inspection Handbook September 2015)
A further catch is that Ofsted might not get round to looking at the school very often, particularly if the last inspection was good. In addition, outstanding schools are exempt. However, Ofsted uses a statistical methodology to assess the risk of good and outstanding providers declining since their last inspection, and the latest Methodology Note (Ofsted July 2015) has more information about the Risk Flags. Exclusion is mentioned, as are “qualifying complaints” from parents. The methodology note says that from 1 September 2015, risk assessment will be used to assist in prioritising short inspections [ie section 8, see below] for good schools, and to identify any exempt (outstanding) primary and secondary schools of concern.
2/ Short Unannounced School Inspection
Another way Ofsted might look at exclusions is in the course of a section 8 short unannounced inspection. Examples are limited but telling:
Too many pupils are internally secluded or excluded from the school for fixed periods and too many are repeatedly experiencing these serious punishments. The proportion of the pupil population that is subject to one or more fixed-term exclusions each year has been well above the national average since 2011. It is already above last year’s high level. Far too many pupils are excluded more than once. According to the school’s records, more than ten pupils have been excluded on three or more separate occasions since the start of the school year in September. Senior leaders explain that ‘the bar has been raised’, but are unable to identify in what ways the triggers for these high-level punishments have changed. The school’s strategies to support these pupils to improve their behaviour are not working. Pupils who are eligible for free school meals and those who have been identified as having special needs are excluded at a much higher rate than others. Senior leaders have not devised effective ways to help these pupils, or for all others at risk of exclusion, in order to support them to improve their behaviour. The school’s systems for tracking improvements in individuals’ behaviour resulting from the interventions are not working. http://www.thedustonschool.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/RV1-The-Duston-School.pdf
The educational psychologist is one of a team of staff who work with groups of students in Key Stages 3 and 4 who have been identified as at risk of exclusion. The academy works effectively with other agencies, such as Worcestershire Early Help services, and alternative providers, to provide better intervention and suitable curriculum pathways, for some students, despite a lack of resources within the local area. As a result of these strategies, exclusion rates are beginning to fall. http://www.worcs.tgacademy.org.uk/files/2015/02/456444-Tudor-Grange-Academy-Worcester-Post-Visit-Letter.pdf
Staff within the school’s inclusion unit are working increasingly effectively with students to help them understand the causes of their poor behaviour and to equip them with strategies to help them behave well. As a consequence the number of students who receive fixed-term exclusions is declining. However, the proportion of students who are temporarily excluded from school was still above the national average last year and has not declined rapidly enough this year. http://www.astleycooper.herts.sch.uk/attachments/download.asp?file=606&type=pdf
The problem with section 8 from the parents’ point of view is that Ofsted has to be alert to the possibility that something is wrong before it will consider taking a closer look. The Section 8 Inspection Handbook explains that Ofsted can undertake inspections to follow up concerns about schools that are not in a category of concern but that have been brought to Ofsted’s attention through, for example, a qualifying complaint made to Ofsted under section 11 of the Act or by other means. Section 8 inspections focus on safeguarding, governance, learning, and/or “the personal development, behaviour and welfare of pupils.”
3/ Local Authority School Improvement Service Inspections
The School Improvement Inspection Handbook doesn’t specifically mention exclusions but several school improvement reports do have something critical to say on the subject.
For example, the Walsall school inspection report notes that:
the local authority does not forensically analyse attendance and exclusion data to identify trends that need to be addressed. For instance, a rising trend in fixed-term exclusions for primary-aged pupils has not been identified or addressed.
East Sussex is also pulled up:
“Challenge and support to schools to reduce exclusions have not been effective in lowering the above-average proportion of permanent exclusions in primary and secondary schools, or the high proportion of fixed-term exclusions in these and special schools.”
The local authority’s work with academies may come under scrutiny in Ofsted’s school improvement inspection, even though LAs have no direct powers of intervention with academies.
The inspection framework for school improvement is set out here. The framework says “academies will be contacted to explore the nature and quality of the local authority’s engagement and relationships with them.”
The framework also says inspectors will “explore whether local authorities seek to work constructively with academies in their area and, where they have concerns about standards or leadership in an academy, whether they alert the Department for Education through the Regional Schools Commissioner as appropriate.”
There are other ways in which local authority school improvement services have a role in academies, such as SEN and safeguarding. Statutory guidance for schools causing concern, last updated January 2015 says:
Local authorities are responsible for those children and young people (under age 25) in its area who have, or may have, special educational needs (SEN) These SEN duties apply regardless of where the child is educated.
• Local authorities have overarching duties under the Children Act 1989 in respect of the safeguarding of children in need, or those suffering or at risk of suffering significant harm, regardless of where those individual children are educated or found. To comply with these duties, local authorities may need to work with maintained schools, academy trusts or independent schools (wherever the individual child concerned is educated) to investigate what action they need to take to safeguard such a child.
The limitation on school improvement inspections as a driver for change with regard to exclusions is that Ofsted will only go in to a council where concerns about performance are apparent or where requested to do so by the Secretary of State.
4/ Inspection of Local Authority Children’s Services
In theory, the safeguarding inspections of children’s services could be used to look at school exclusions but in practice the scope for this is somewhat limited, especially for internal exclusion where a child will be regarded as “safe” if he or she is on school premises during school hours.
In 2013 Ofsted looked into children missing out on education, and as a result, inspectors now ask for “detailed and specific data on school-age children, for whom the authority is responsible but who are not in full-time education” as part of the inspections of local authority children’s social care.
The new Inspection Framework (September 2015) reiterates that Ofsted will track and sample the individual experiences of children and young people, including those missing from education or being offered alternative provision. Unfortunately, parents will probably not be aware that Ofsted is in their area and wouldn’t have a way to contact the inspectorate anyway, so it will depend to a great extent on how the inspection team defines “missing from education” given that inspectors are increasingly hyperfocused on children out of school who might be in danger of sexual exploitation.
The thing Ofsted is picking up on now is children who miss out on educational entitlement. By its own criteria then, Ofsted should be taking a hard look at internal exclusion and what actually happens to pupils who are repeatedly parked out of lessons or sent to an on-site unit.
The school might be able to justify this on behavioural grounds but if there isn’t a proper plan for the child’s education during internal exclusion or if reintegration does not provide an opportunity for the pupil to catch up on any work missed, the school should be held to account for the effect on the child’s education.
Parents sometimes say to me that their child has missed so much that there’s no chance they’ll pass exams if they stay in school anyway. This is where it shades into illegal exclusion or offrolling where parents feel they have no choice but to take the child out and home educate.
4 out of 5 secondary school pupils who are permanently excluded have previously been suspended – known as a fixed period exclusion, and the single biggest reason for permanent exclusion from school is “persistent disruptive behaviour.”
For their part, parents need to log what is happening at school, to see whether the school just keeps doing the same thing over and over. As I said in my post last week, by the time it gets to a fixed period exclusion, there will likely already have been a lot going on behind the scenes that parents might not necessarily be aware of.
Parents can ask for a copy of the school’s Behaviour Policy and a written explanation of different types of adjustment for example when the child is sent to a different classroom. Furthermore, if the parent believes the child’s SEN makes it more difficult to comply with certain rules, he or she can formally request an adjustment such as a safe place for the young person to go so they aren’t just leaving the classroom without permission for an unknown destination, which would otherwise trigger a sanction. The local authority SEN department also has a legal responsibility here, and the fact that it may have very little power over the school doesn’t change that.
There is a strong case for Ofsted undertaking a thematic review of school’s internal and external exclusions as a follow-up to the 2014 Below the radar: low-level disruption in classrooms where the over-riding message was mostly about “tightening-up” and “setting clear expectations” with no consideration whatsoever of special educational needs.
The latest exclusion statistics reveal that of the 142,850 pupils subject to fixed period exclusions, 10% had a statement of SEN (rising to 13% in primaries) and 75,080/142,850 (53%) of pupils receiving fixed period exclusions had some form of SEN (rising to 76% 16420/21650 in primaries). Nearly half (46%) of pupils subject to fixed period exclusions in secondary schools had special educational needs (53,190/115,670).
Ofsted School Inspection Handbook from September 2015 (section 5)
Ofsted FAQ Schools Use of Exclusion
Ofsted School Inspection Handbook from September 2015 Short Inspections (section 8)
Ofsted School Improvement Inspection Handbook from September 2015
Ofsted School improvement inspections to April 2015
Statutory Guidance for Schools Causing Concern
Ofsted Framework for Inspecting Local Authorities Children’s Services September 2015 (single inspection framework)
Ofsted Handbook for Inspecting Local Authorities Children’s Services September 2015 (single inspection framework)
Parents Guide to School Exclusion
Parents Guide to Internal Exclusion
Always Someone Else’s Problem. Children’s Commissioner Report on Illegal Exclusion 2013
2012 Government Exclusions Guidance
Exclusions Statistics 2013-14 published July 2015
My website page on exclusions