Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Tories: Exclusive or inclusive?

Next in the series examining Tory education policies....

We believe that Head Teachers are best placed to raise standards of behaviour, which is why we will stop heads being overruled by bureaucrats over exclusions.

Decisions about whether or not to exclude a child from school should not be taken lightly. As well as the fact that a pupil who is excluded is very likely to end up with no qualifications and to become ‘NEET’ (not in education, employment or training), Fairbridge, a charity that supports pupils in danger of exclusion, says that educating an excluded child in a Pupil Referral Unit (where a majority of excluded children end up) costs around £15,000 a year – three times as much as a place at secondary school. The aggregate cost of all exclusions is around £650 million every year and the average lifetime cost of crime is over £15,500 per excluded child.

The Conservatives pledge that they will give the power to exclude a child to Head Teachers, who will no longer be ‘overruled by bureaucrats.’ The Tories have a broad understanding of the term ‘bureaucrat’ - in this case they mean the independent appeals panels administered by local authorities. In their schools policy paper from 2007, they make it clear that, under a Tory government, “The only appeal would be to the governing body of the school.” This is wrong.

It is wrong because it emphasises exclusion when the most successful inner-city schools are placing a very strong emphasis on inclusion. A report published by OFSTED last year, ‘12 Outstanding Secondary Schools, Excelling against the odds’, noted that one of the characteristics of all the schools featured is that, “They are highly inclusive, having complete regard for educational progress, personal development and well being of every child.” Some of the schools now employ ‘social inclusion managers’ who “spend their time around the corridors or dropping into lessons” and work closely with heads of year to follow through on any issues arising. The outcome of these innovations (and others like it) is that, “The outstanding schools manage behaviour issues very well without instilling an oppressive atmosphere.”

The Tory argument is that schools are very often using fixed term exclusions (suspensions) when permanent exclusion would be a “compelling alternative” that would ensure pupils are placed in a setting “more appropriate to his her specific and often challenging needs.” The problem is that those settings (pupil referral units) are, very often, as OFSTED says (and the Tories themselves quote) “the least successful of all in ensuring the good progress of the pupils who attended.” Expecting them to improve very quickly and deal simultaneously with larger numbers of pupils is a very tall – and expensive – order.

If a Head Teacher is not required to justify her decision to an external body, they may take the decision more lightly. No Head Teacher wants to exclude a child – it goes completely against what all teachers are working to achieve – but without a check on their decisions, they may on occasions get a call wrong or exclude a child too rashly. The Conservatives have pointed out on several occasions that we know an ever increasing amount about how schools succeed against the odds. They argue that they will work to ensure that all schools have this knowledge; on exclusions, their message is counter to what the inclusive emphasis of the best schools.

How will this policy actually change the educational landscape?

This policy would make it easier for pupils to be permanently excluded from school and would put a lot of extra burden on pupil referral units that are already struggling to cope with very challenging pupils.

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