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Gareth D Morewood

SEND: the E is not for exclusion

Too many schools are turning away their most vulnerable learners when additional needs are not met. This must stop.

A few weeks ago, I argued that excluding pupils should always be a last resort; that schools and parents can find more positive solutions if they work together; and that for pupils with SEND, exclusion is a road to nowhere.

In this fourth part of a ‘SEND is not for…’ series, I delve deeper into the issue of exclusion in the current climate, especially as we learn from recent data that SEND pupils are being ‘pushed out’ of mainstream schools.

Updated guidance

From September, new statutory guidance on the exclusion of pupils has come into force. Any exclusion issued before 1 September 2017 that is still subject to review would need to be considered under the 2012 guidance, and all exclusions after 1 September under the new guidance.

The new guidance has changed some aspects of the exclusion process, but the overarching legislation remains unamended. Browne Jacobson have summarised the changes in a FAQ blog post. Although the focus of the post is on SEND, it’s important to note that under the new guidance, parents and carers retain the right to request the presence of a SEND expert at any hearing. They are also able to request an adjournment until a SEND expert can attend if the hearing is in progress.

Unmet needs

The specific groups of pupils with special and additional needs who are particularly vulnerable to exclusion include pupils with statements of SEN or an EHCP, and looked-after children. Their representation in exclusion data for SEND pupils is significant – should this be the case? What can we do to ensure that EHCPs meet needs? 

After all, if a pupil with SEND has a EHCP and is excluded, does that signify that their needs are not being met through the identified provision?

Many difficult questions remain unanswered. Should the system not work to do the exact opposite and 'include' those young people with more complex needs?

As far as possible, headteachers should avoid permanently excluding any looked-after child, or a child with a statement of SEN or an EHCP.

It’s important that schools engage proactively with parents and carers in supporting the behaviour of pupils with additional needs. It is also important to note the local authority’s responsibility for maintaining the plan and providing for the individual pupil. Under no circumstances should this responsibility be abdicated to schools.

With regard to looked after children, schools should be proactive in co-producing outcomes with foster carers or children’s home workers, along with the local authority.

Where a school has concerns about the behaviour of a child with additional needs, a pupil with a statement of SEN, an EHCP or a looked after child it should, in partnership with others (including the local authority), consider what additional support or alternative placement may be required. This should involve assessing the suitability of support for a pupil’s SEN. 

Where a pupil has a statement of SEN or EHCP, schools should consider requesting an early annual review or interim/emergency review.

What must be done?

It is difficult not to draw bleak conclusions about the ‘reality’ of the SEND system at this time, as I have previously. After two decades of working with young people and families, I’m certain that we need greater fluidity in our response to need. Hiding behind a review panel or LA process will only obstruct access to vital provision and support.

Hiding behind a review panel or LA process will only obstruct access to vital provision and support

While I am often heard providing the timely reminder that the ‘law trumps all’, the current system ‘log-jam’ and long road to justice shows that last year saw a 43% rise in appeals to the Tribunal from 2015/16 (4277 in 2016/7; 3236 in 2015/16). Unfortunately the law provides little answer for the immediate needs of young people without a school place, more must be done systemically.

There needs to be a clear change in accountability measures to encourage more positive solution-focused approaches.

To meet the needs of vulnerable young people at risk of exclusion, we need more immediate access to additional provision. Bureaucratic systems and spurious processes increase the risks to this cohort and their families.

A manifesto for change

In order to reduce the number of young people with SEND who are unduly excluded, I propose we:

  • adopt a less bureaucratic approach to increasing provision or changing placement
  • improve access to good quality advice and specialist assessment
  • make ‘off-rolling’ illegal
  • change how we assess the extent of a school’s inclusion (for example by measurement of NEETs figures) as opposed to the current ‘academic outcome’ measures
  • ensure school places meet need; the continuum of specialist provision and mainstream places is woefully unbalanced in many areas.

I hope that those who influence educational policy and accountability measures will consider these initial suggestions and start a debate; for there is one thing I am certain, things must change. Let this be the start of the process!

 

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