Saturday, March 31, 2018

Further on School Exclusions and Coerced De-registrations

Further on the subject of school exclusions, coerced de-registrations and the related DfE consultation, there have been questions about the very same subject  in the House of Lords:

Lord McColl of Dulwich:

"To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of reports that some schools are encouraging families to home school children with complex difficulties, possibly with an eye to those schools' performance statistics; and what plans they have to ensure that such children benefit from the support of the proposed mental health support teams. "

Lord Agnew of Oulton replied:

"The department shares concerns that some children are potentially being educated at home as a result of pressure by schools. However, it is not in a position to confirm how far these concerns are justified by actual cases. "

A lot of families who find themselves home educating as a result of numerous kinds of pressure from schools could help Lord Agnew out with that question, but we'll get on to that.

Lord Agnew continues:

 "A pupil’s name can only lawfully be deleted from the admission register on the grounds prescribed in Regulation 8 of the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006 as amended. Schools should not seek to persuade parents to educate their children at home as a way of excluding the pupil or because the pupil has a poor attendance record. It is unlawful to permanently exclude a pupil from a school other than for disciplinary reasons. Schools may not exclude pupils because of their academic attainment or ability, or because they cannot meet their needs. Sending a pupil home without recording it as an exclusion is also not permitted. "

This is, of course, how school exclusions should be handled, but the reality is that there are a number of ways that schools get rid of children without having to restrict themselves to the apparently narrow criteria for exclusion.

Routes to off-loading a young person from school fall into three broad categories:

* exclusions (as described by Lord Agnew) ie: the proper disciplinary reasons for exclusion.

*exclusions that happen for reasons other than the strictly defined disciplinary ones, but with disciplinary cases concocted on flimsy grounds: one person's "disciplinary reasons" may be another person's need to "take time out for ten minutes" for example.

* coerced de-registration, ie: the parents de-register the child from school as if voluntarily, but they actually only do this because the school situation is intolerable.  The school, one way or another, is not providing the child with a suitable education and the parent is therefore in breach of their duties if they did not withdraw the child.

 There are many reasons why coerced de-registration occurs. These include:

- the child's special educational needs are not met in the school.
- the child is bullied by staff or pupils and is miserable.
- the child suffers racial prejudice.
- the child is sexually harassed .
- excessive demands on children which lead to stress, depression, self-harm, etc.
- the rigid curriculum.
- the high test environment leading to stress, depression, self-harm etc.
- strict attendance rules which don't allow for any leniency.

Lord Agnew didn't, however, address the knotty issue of coerced de-registration.  He continued instead on the subject of de-registration as if it is entirely uncontroversial, ie: a freely chosen action on the part for the family and not a decision that is often forced upon families for want of a better alternative.

He said:

"Parents have a duty to ensure their child of compulsory school age receives a suitable full-time education but this does not have to be at a school. On receipt of written notification from a parent to home educate their child, the school must inform the pupil’s local authority that the pupil’s name is to be deleted from the admission register. "

Within the narrow frame of Lord Agnew's argument, this is of course absolutely right and is a fair  reflection of the situation, given that the family are in the position of freely choosing to de-register, but this is not the reality for many families who are forced down the de-registration route because the school cannot meet their child's needs.

Lord Agnew offers one possible solution to the problems identified in this blog post, (though it not entirely clear, given his previous paragraphs on exclusion what problem he thinks he is purporting to solve):

"We will test how the new mental health support teams proposed in the green paper ‘Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision’ can provide support to all children in an area, including those not at school."

...but it is only part of an answer.  Schools are so desperately underfunded at the moment that they cannot hope to provide a suitable education for those children who don't fit as perfectly round pegs in perfectly round holes, however much mental health help the child receives.  Instead we really must think more imaginatively and make more alternative provision available for these children. 

Better EOTAs provision could be facilitated by

*accepting the reality that many children are just not suited to the current schooling system

* by making the budget follow the child more easily and

*by expanding EOTAs provision and creating new alternatives. The Red Balloon of the Air  and Hospital School models could offer a way forward, along with funding for virtual colleges. 

These initiatives really would actually help rather than wasting money on the useless proposals in the current Bill in the Lords.

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