Council attempting to ‘turn the tide’ on rising exclusion rates in Shropshire schools

More and more children are facing permanent exclusions from Shropshire schools as a result of service cuts, criminal exploitation and the rise of academies, education chiefs have said.

Figures show how the number of children being expelled from schools across the county has risen each year for almost a decade, only falling in the last two years because of the pandemic but remaining higher than the national average.

The authority is now bringing in a raft of changes as it attempts to “turn the tide” and bring the numbers back down.

Speaking at a meeting of the council’s people overview committee, Nathan Jones, SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) service manager, said: “The rate of school exclusions in Shropshire has increased steadily since 2012, a trend that continued until schools were closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020.

“Most exclusions are applied in secondary schools.

“There is an increase in both fixed term and permanent exclusions and, of particular concern, are the numbers of children with special educational needs who are now being excluded at a higher rate than the national average.”

A report presented to the committee showed there were 44 exclusions in the 2015/16 academic year, and by 2018/19 this had more than doubled to 90.

In 2019/20 the figure fell to 44 again as schools were largely closed from March onwards.

Mr Jones said: “In the academic year 2020/21, despite further periods of lockdown where schools were only open to vulnerable and keyworkers’ children, the local authority was notified of 75 permanent exclusions.

“Twenty-four of these were averted by the local authority inclusion team, seven were rescinded and one was overturned on appeal to the pupil disciplinary committee.

“This left 43 completed permanent exclusions, of which 19 were of pupils in Key Stage Four.”

Mr Jones said government guidance on permanent exclusions was clear that the measure should only be used as a last resort, in cases of a serious breach or persistent breaches of behaviour policy.

He added: “Besides the immediate significant financial cost of permanent exclusion to the local authority… the impact on the life chances and future financial burden on the wider welfare system cannot be ignored.

“Children who have been excluded often do not reach their potential in terms of obtaining good qualifications and securing good employment opportunities.”

Mr Jones also highlighted the link between ‘adverse childhood experiences’ – including domestic abuse, criminal exploitation and substance misuse – and exclusions.

He said: “Children who are considered vulnerable are more likely to be excluded and there is clear evidence of links between safeguarding and exclusion.

“An audit of all 24 children who were permanently excluded in the autumn term 2020 was undertaken with a focus on adverse childhood experiences.

“Of the 24 pupils who were permanently excluded during the period covered by the audit, there was clear evidence of multiple adverse childhood experiences present in the lives of 14 children and young people.”

Mr Jones said there were a number of factors behind the increase in exclusion rates in recent years, including budget cuts and an increase in criminal exploitation in the area, with “county lines gaining a foothold in Shropshire”.

More schools converting to academy status was also a factor, he said, due to the council having less involvement with academies than state-run schools.

Other causes identified include a rise in mental health and wellbeing issues among pupils and long waiting lists to access support services, the rise of social media and curriculum changes with a greater focus on exams.

Mr Jones said the council was implementing a number of measures in an effort to reduce the levels of fixed-term and permanent exclusions, including changes to the Tuition, Medical and Behaviour Support Service (TMBSS).

Currently, pupils in TMBSS places attend the service for half a day, each day for a week, returning to their usual school for the other half day.

Under the new model, due to be rolled out in the new year, pupils will attend their usual school all day on day five, with support from the TMBSS.

Other changes are also being planned, including introducing new policies and protocols, further reviewing the TMBSS system to increase capacity, and working with schools on “cultural change” to ensure children get the right support when they need it.

Mr Jones added: “In order to turn the tide of permanent exclusions, partners must build on the work we have started to create a fully inclusive community that understands the factors driving behaviour in schools.

“Behaviour is always a form of communication which we must hear, act upon and provide the necessary response and resources to adequately and fully meet the needs of our children and young people.

“This is more important than ever, as we also begin to understand the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and deal with its aftermath.

“It is also firmly in the interests of Shropshire to invest in our children’s futures to ensure the stability and growth of our communities and wider society as we face the challenges to come.”

Councillor Peggy Mullock, chair of the committee, said it was concerning that school governors are not given any training on the issue before sitting on exclusion panels.

The committee voted to request training for governors on exclusions, and to be updated on the progress of the new TMBSS model when it is implemented.

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