Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee

The Education Committee expresses concerns about the over-exclusion of pupils and at the 'alarming' increase in 'hidden exclusions' where children are internally isolated, or informally excluded, in its report: Forgotten children: alternative provision and the scandal of ever increasing exclusions.

The 'ever increasing' number of pupils excluded from school in England are being left abandoned to a forgotten part of the education system—alternative provision—which too often fails to give them the education they deserve.

'Bill of Rights'

The Committee recommends a series of measures which can act as a 'Bill of Rights' for pupils and their parents to help combat the existing lack of information and rights which currently act as “an obstacle to social justice and the educational ladder of opportunity”. The report finds there is a "lack of moral accountability" on the part of many schools with no incentive to, or deterrent to not, retain pupils who could be classed as difficult or challenging.

Excluded are the forgotten children

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, said:

"Today, we face the scandal of ever-increasing numbers of children being excluded and being left abandoned to a forgotten part of our education system which too often fails to deliver good outcomes for these young people.

As a Committee we are dedicated to social justice, to helping young people climb the ladder of opportunity. The young people who are excluded are the forgotten children. Many already face a host of challenges, with children in care, children in need, children with SEND, and children in poverty, being far more likely to end up in alternative provision (AP). They deserve the best possible support but often they don’t get the education that they need to thrive.

Parents and pupils face a system which isn’t designed for their needs, too often being left to a Wild West of exclusions with too many pupils in AP who shouldn’t be there, and those who are there not receiving the right support or the early intervention needed to make a difference to their lives.

We need a Bill of Rights for parents and pupils who access alternative provision and they deserve someone in their corner to be their champion during the often-difficult process of trying to get the best possible support. We need much better provision, with teachers being encouraged to work in AP, and we need to strip away some of the stigma by renaming PRUs and genuinely seeing them as places for education, learning and support.

During our inquiry, we heard about outstanding provision and dedicated staff, and from pupils who are thriving in their alternative settings. However, as a Committee we are concerned that this is too variable – all pupils should be able to experience high quality provision that meets their needs and right to an education. 

From the range of evidence we heard in our inquiry, it’s clear that reform is necessary to make sure that schools are accountable for these children. Schools which do seek to do the most for these children shouldn’t be penalised by an accountability system which acts as a disincentive to efforts which could have a transformative impact on young people’s lives.

Children in alternative provision are the forgotten children and we hope that this report shines a light on this part of our education system. This provision has been forgotten by Governments of all stripes for far too long. We look forward to the results of Edward Timpson’s review but change has to start now. The writing is on the wall, now is the time to act."

Calls for the Government to allocate resources to support post-16 pupils

The Committee's report finds it surprising that the increase in the participation age to 18 was not accompanied by statutory duties to provide post-16 alternative provision. The Committee calls upon the Government to allocate resources to ensure that local authorities and providers can provide post-16 support to pupils, either in the form of outreach and support to colleges or by providing their own post-16 alternative provision.

Conclusions and recommendations

What’s going wrong in mainstream schools?

1.The Timpson Exclusions Review should ensure that it looks at the trends in exclusion by school type, location and pupil demographics. (Paragraph 18)

2.The Timpson Exclusions Review should examine whether financial pressures and accountability measures in schools are preventing schools from providing early intervention support and contributing to the exclusion crisis. (Paragraph 20)

3.The evidence we have seen suggests that the rise in so called ‘zero-tolerance’ behaviour policies is creating school environments where pupils are punished and ultimately excluded for incidents that could and should be managed within the mainstream school environment. (Paragraph 25)

4.The Government should issue guidance to all schools reminding them of their responsibilities to children under treaty obligations and ensure that their behaviour policies are in line with these responsibilities. (Paragraph 26)

5.The Government and Ofsted should introduce an inclusion measure or criteria that sits within schools to incentivise schools to be more inclusive. (Paragraph 27)

6.We do not think that Ofsted should take sole responsibility for tackling off-rolling. Off-rolling is in part driven by school policies created by the Department for Education. The Department cannot wash its hands of the issue, just as schools cannot wash their hands of their pupils. (Paragraph 34)

7.An unfortunate and unintended consequence of the Government’s strong focus on school standards has led to school environments and practices that have resulted in disadvantaged children being disproportionately excluded, which includes a curriculum with a lack of focus on developing pupils’ social and economic capital. There appears to be a lack of moral accountability on the part of many schools and no incentive to, or deterrent to not, retain pupils who could be classed as difficult or challenging. (Paragraph 36)

8.We recommend that the Government should change the weighting of Progress 8 and other accountability measures to take account of every pupil who had spent time at a school, in proportion to the amount of time they spent there. This should be done alongside reform of Progress 8 measures to take account of outliers and to incentivise inclusivity. (Paragraph 37)

The process of exclusion and referral

9.The exclusions process is weighted in favour of schools and often leaves parents and pupils navigating an adversarial system that should be supporting them. (Paragraph 44)

10.Legislation should be amended at the next opportunity so that where Independent Review Panels find in favour of the pupils, IRPs can direct a school to reinstate a pupil. (Paragraph 45)

11.Where responsibility sits for excluded children in a local area has become very ambiguous. The Timpson Exclusions Review needs to clarify whose responsibility it is to ensure that excluded or off-rolled pupils are being properly educated. This could be the local authority or it could be local school partnerships, but at the moment too many pupils are falling through the net. (Paragraph 46)

12.When a pupil is excluded from school for more than five non-consecutive days in a school year, the pupil and their parents or carers should be given access to an independent advocate. This should happen both where pupils are internally or externally excluded from school, or where the LA is arranging education due to illness. (Paragraph 47)

13.The Government should encourage the creation of more specialist alternative providers that are able to meet the diverse needs of pupils with medical needs, including mental health needs. (Paragraph 53)

14.There in an inexplicable lack of central accountability and direction. No one appears to be aware of all the provision that is available, which impacts on both schools, local authorities and parents. Unless all providers are required to notify the local authority of their presence, not all schools or LAs will be able to make informed decisions about placements. Without someone to take responsibility for co-ordinating and publishing information about the local provision that is available, parents and pupils will remain unable to fully participate in discussions about alternative provisions referrals. (Paragraph 56)

15.All organisations offering alternative provision should be required to inform the local authority in which they are based of their provision. The local authority should then make the list of alternative providers operating in their local authority available to schools and parents on their website. (Paragraph 57)

16.Pupil Referral Units, and other forms of alternative provision, should be renamed to remove the stigma and stop parents being reluctant to send their pupils there. We suggest that the Government seeks the advice of pupils who currently attend alternative provision when developing this new terminology. Many have described AP as specialist provision, offering children a more tailored, more personal education that is more suited to their needs. (Paragraph 58)

17.Local authorities have statutory responsibilities to provide suitable education for pupils and yet can have little oversight or scrutiny over decisions about exclusions and placement decisions. This may be due to inadequate resourcing, which needs to be addressed. We are also concerned by the lack of transparency about exclusion rates that are available to parents about schools. (Paragraph 62)

18.We recommend that LAs are given appropriate powers to ensure that any child receive the education they need, regardless of school type. (Paragraph 63)

19.Schools should publish their permanent and fixed term exclusion rates by year group every term, including providing information about pupils with SEND and looked-after children. Schools should also publish data on the number of pupils who have left the school. (Paragraph 64)

20.Schools do not always have the capacity and specialist knowledge to have full responsibility for the commissioning of long-term placements for pupils who will often have complex needs. If, as we discussed in paragraph 52, local authorities are unaware of provision in their area, they too do not always have enough knowledge to make appropriate commissioning decisions. A fragmented approach to commissioning responsibilities and a lack of oversight and scrutiny around decisions means that pupils are being left vulnerable to inappropriate placement decisions. (Paragraph 66)

21.The best Fair Access Protocols work well because they are local and understand the needs of their communities. However, this is not always the case, and it is not right that some schools can opt out of receiving pupils back to mainstream schools or following the Fair Access Protocol. (Paragraph 71)

22.Government should issue clearer guidance on Fair Access Protocols to ensure that schools understand and adhere to their responsibilities and encourage reintegration where appropriate. No school should be able to opt-out and if necessary either the local authority or the DfE should have the power to direct a school to adhere to their local Fair Access Protocol. (Paragraph 72)

23.There should be greater oversight of exclusions and the commissioning of alternative provision for all pupils by the local authority. These children need a champion, and schools need both challenge and support. (Paragraph 76)

24.There should be a senior person in each local authority who is responsible for protecting the interests and promoting the educational achievement of pupils in alternative provision, which is adequately resourced. This role and post-holder should be different from that of the Virtual School Head for Looked-After Children. (Paragraph 77)

What does good alternative provision look like?

25.Government should collect best practice and provide dedicated resources and guidance to schools to improve behaviour and reduce exclusion and develop appropriately resourced Learning Support Units. This guidance should include that all LSUs are staffed by at least one qualified teacher. The Government should also investigate the practice of placing students in isolation units. (Paragraph 87)

26.Ofsted should carry out thematic inspections of in-school alternative provision. (Paragraph 88)

27.All trainee teachers, in order to achieve Qualified Teacher Status, should be required to undertake a placement outside of mainstream education, for example in a special school or in alternative provision. (Paragraph 96)

28.We do not consider that there are sufficient checks on unregistered providers. If pupils are placed in unregistered provision, without sufficient oversight, their education and safety is put at risk. We are not convinced that the quality and consistency of oversight is enough not to require there to be registration and regulation across the sector. (Paragraph 109)

29.No pupil should be educated in unregistered provision for more than two days a week. The Government, Ofsted and independent school inspectorates should consider how this may affect different forms of alternative provision so that where providers want to accept pupils for more than two days a week, they are able to register and be subject to a suitable inspection and regulation regime. Schools that commission any alternative provision should be responsible for the quality of that provision. (Paragraph 110)

30.Mainstream schools should be more proactive in their engagement with alternative provision. All mainstream schools should be ‘buddied’ with an alternative provision school to share expertise and offer alternative provision teachers and pupils opportunities to access teaching and learning opportunities. (Paragraph 113)

Successful outcomes and destinations

31.This framework should take into account the fragmented educational journey that these pupils will have had, and enable schools to demonstrate all the achievements of their pupils. We urge the Government to ensure that it uses the very broadest of measures, including softer skills that pupils have developed as well as harder outcomes like apprenticeship take up. (Paragraph 119)

32.It is extraordinary that the increase in the participation age was not accompanied by statutory duties to provide post-16 alternative provision. Pupils neither stop being ill at 16, nor do they stop being in need of additional support that would enable them to access education. These pupils are being denied access to post-16 education because the system is not designed or funded to accommodate their additional needs. There is a clear will in the sector to provide post-16 education to pupils in alternative provision, and a clear need on the part of pupils. (Paragraph 123)

33.Given the increase in participation age to 18, the Government must allocate resources to ensure that local authorities and providers can provide post-16 support to pupils, either in the form of outreach and support to colleges or by providing their own post-16 alternative provision. (Paragraph 124)


Education Committee inquiry into Alternative Provision

The Committee has today (20 Sept 2017) launched an inquiry into Alternative Provision (AP). Alternative provision, provided in settings such as Pupil Referral Units, educates young people who do not attend mainstream school for a variety of reasons, such as school exclusion, behaviour issues, school refusal, or short- or long-term illness.
Robert Halfon 100x100Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee, said: “Some of the most disadvantaged young people in our society are educated through alternative provision and we want to establish whether they are receiving the best possible support.
“Students in alternative provision are far less likely to achieve good exam results, find well-paid jobs or go on to further study. Only around 1% of young people in state alternative provision receive five good GCSEs. As a Committee dedicated to promoting social justice, we are committed to examining these issues in our inquiry and pressing Government, local authorities, schools and others to do all they can to improve educational outcomes and life chances. Every student, whatever their background, should be given the chance to climb the educational ladder of opportunity.”
In addition to looking at the quality of their education and the outcomes of these students, the Committee will also look at safeguarding and resources within AP, provision of AP within schools and regulation of independent providers [full inquiry terms of reference included below].
Background
Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) constitute one form of AP. Department for Education statistics indicate that there are 353 schools in England and that are 15,000 students in PRUs, an increase of 16% since 2011/12.
Permanent and fixed-term exclusions have risen in recent years, mainly affecting secondary and special schools. There were around 35.2 permanent exclusions per day in 2015/16, up from an average of 30.5 per day in 2014/15.
DfE statistics also show that:
  • Pupils known to be eligible for and claiming free school meals (FSM) were around four times more likely to receive a permanent or fixed period exclusion than those who are not eligible.
  • Pupils with identified special educational needs (SEN) accounted for almost half of all permanent exclusions and fixed period exclusions
  • Boys were over three times more likely to receive a permanent exclusion and almost three times more likely to receive a fixed period exclusion than girls.
Terms of Reference
The Education Committee invites written submissions by 1 November on the following issues:
  • Routes into alternative provision.
  • The quality of teaching in alternative provision (including pupil referral units);
  • Educational outcomes and destinations of students;
  • Safety, accommodation, and provision of resources for students;
  • In-school alternatives to external alternative provision; 
  • Regulation of independent providers.
 
Committee Membership: Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP (Con, Harlow), Lucy Allan MP (Con, Telford), Michelle Donelan MP (Con, Chippenham), Marion Fellows MP (SNP, Motherwell and Wishaw), James Frith MP (Lab, Bury North), Emma Hardy MP (Lab, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle), Trudy Harrison MP (Con, Copeland), Ian Mearns MP (Lab, Gateshead), Lucy Powell MP (Lab Co-op, Manchester Central),Thelma Walker MP (Lab, Colne Valley),William Wragg MP (Con, Hazel Grove)

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