Permanent school exclusions in Northamptonshire have risen by almost a third with children as young as five being told to leave their primary school for good.
Latest figures from the local education authority show that there have been 135 permanent exclusions this academic year – from September to now – compared to 105 in the same period last year.
There have also been 657 fixed term exclusions within the county’s primary schools and 3,183 at secondary schools. This is a 14 per cent rise on the same period the year before.
Five children in Year 1 have been permanently excluded from their primary school this academic year and a further 21 have been excluded from across primary years 2 to 6.
Ofsted has flagged up the issue of primary exclusions to Northamptonshire county council – which acts as the local education authority – saying that there is a higher number than should be expected.
Senior education officer Alison Shipley told the school’s forum yesterday: “In a recent conversation with Ofsted they did comment on our number of primary exclusions and said it was out of kilter with other authorities.”
About overall exclusions she said: “A lot of it is down to the head of the school. You can see the changes in data when the senior leadership of the school changes.”
Reasons for why the five Year one pupils were asked to leave their schools were not disclosed at the meeting, however Alison Shipley did say that a number of young boys excluded suffer from parent attachment issues which can lead to them becoming ‘very damaged’.
The county’s director of children services Sally Hodges was at the schools forum meeting and said exclusions was a ‘chicken and egg situation’ that was ‘life changing for children’. She said the local authority currently has a lot of mid adolescent children currently going into the care system, some of whom have been excluded from school.
Head teacher of Wollaston School James Birkett said there was an issue across schools with children bringing in drugs and dealing them to other children. He said the school would always want to exclude these children and others schools would be reluctant to let the excluded student join.
If children are excluded and cannot find another school they can be educated at an alternative provision unit. Places cost £20,000 per pupil and the cost to a local authority is £100,000 for five years’ schooling. In the latest financial year 2018-19, £3.6m was spent on alternative provision for students, an overspend of £1.3m.
To try to reduce the number of exclusions the local authority is working with Northampton school heads to sign a common agreement about how they deal with exclusions. Schools now often belong to academy trusts which have their own exclusion policies.
Speaking after the meeting one of the school forum members said that blame for exclusions should not be laid solely at the door of the schools, rather it was a combination of a large number of factors resulting from austerity. They said the mental health of parents, family situations and the stress levels of teaching staff all contributed to the growing problem of exclusions.
Another issue is ‘off-rolling’ – where schools tell students to leave before the GCSE exam period, without formally excluding them, so their predicted poor grades are not included in the schools’ statistics.
Ofsted believes there are 10 schools in the county which have been off-rolling students. Alison Shipley said the un-named schools, which Ofsted suspected, came as a surprise to the education authority.
A national exclusion review published this month (May) by former education minister Edward Timpson has made a series of recommendations including that permanent exclusion should only be used as a last resort. It found that more than three quarters or children who are excluded nationally were vulnerable children, either having a special educational need or receiving free school meals.