The government is switching to monitoring changes in the use of exclusions and other disciplinary measures “in real time”, a minister has said, amid concerns of an exclusions “spike”.
Children’s minister Vicky Ford said the Department for Education was “introducing intelligence gathering and monitoring processes” to gather information on the use of exclusions as schools respond to the coronavirus crisis.
It comes as the children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, warned against a “spike” in exclusions and absences because children are struggling to adjust with their return to schools.
Asked by Tuliq Siddiq, the shadow children’s minister, about how many pupils with SEND had been excluded so far this term, Ford said data was currently collected on a termly-basis and reported annually, so information for this term is not yet held.
But she said the department was “introducing intelligence gathering and monitoring processes to identify in real time any changes in the use of exclusions and other disciplinary measures”.
This “includes discussions with stakeholders including regional school commissioners, Ofsted and local authorities”, she added.
Asked for more information, the government said its officials met with key stakeholder organisations “regularly” to discuss “a variety of issues related to reopening schools, including exclusions and any disciplinary measures being used”. The DfE’s REACT teams are also working with RSCs and councils to “understand any concerns as schools reopen”, a source said.
In a report released today, Childhood in the time of Covid, Longfield said schools should “focus on children’s mental health and wellbeing, rather than simply focusing on attainment”, and said government “should be clear” rising exclusions and absences must not happen.
In the report, Longfield warned that children with SEND “may struggle disproportionately with the return to school, especially if they have not attended since March”.
“Before the crisis, children with SEND had higher rates of exclusion and persistent absence than other children. There are concerns that these rates could spike during the autumn term, along with the rate of children being withdrawn from school rolls,” it went on to say.
Longfield also warned the disruption caused by Covid had been “particularly worrying” for teenagers on the cusp of adulthood, who were “already falling through gaps” before the pandemic.
“These are young people who have experienced setbacks like persistent absence from school, exclusions, alternative provision, dropping out of the school system in year 11, or going missing from care. Without serious investment in re-engaging these teens, they face a potentially tumultuous future of educational failure, unemployment and criminal exploitation.”
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, added that this academic year “cannot be education as normal”.
“Schools and colleges will need to be at the heart of ensuring that children and young people get the pastoral care and positive learning experiences,” she said. “The government needs to get and keep the conditions in place to make sure schools can be safe enough for children, families and staff – and this means much more testing, more teachers and smaller classes.”