Let councils 'scrutinise' school approaches to exclusions, says Halfon

The chair of the parliamentary education committee has demanded extra powers for councils to scrutinise schools’ approach to exclusions.

In a letter to the education secretary Damian Hinds, sent following a recent inquiry into exclusions and knife crime, Robert Halfon made a set of recommendations to the government.

Urging schools to “intervene early” with at-risk pupils, Halfon called for “local authority monitoring” of their approach to exclusions.

“Local authorities do not have a sufficiently strong role to play in scrutinising schools’ approaches to exclusions in the first place,” he wrote. “We urge the department to consider giving local authorities more power to monitor exclusions.”

The committee also released a letter from Hinds to Halfon sent ahead of the inquiry. He stated the “power to exclude is an important one for headteachers” and pointed out that in Scotland, where exclusions have decreased, knife crime has still risen.

However the education secretary also said he recognised pupils not in mainstream schools were more likely to become involved in crime, and said he was “committed to improving” alternative provision and also bringing down the high rate of absence among pupils who become knife crime offenders.

Robust behaviour policies are important, but we must do far more than that

In his letter, Halfon called for improvements to government guidance to help schools be more inclusive, and said more resources and better training for teachers are also needed.

“Robust behaviour policies are important, but we must do far more than that: teachers need the right training to identify and address the complex personal challenges that are associated with exclusions and knife crime.”

The government needs to produce guidance on “what effective inclusion looks like” and how to give pupils the right support, including appropriate medical support, he added, and schools must be “properly resourced” to meet the guidance and the DfE should “assess, and meet” each of these recommendations.

Halfon also echoed the findings of Ofsted’s recent report on the role of London schools in tackling knife crime, which warned schools were taking an inconsistent approach to exclusions.

The DfE should explain how it will ensure schools are complying with existing guidance, as well as whether it would work with the Home Office on guidance on police involvement and exclusions, he said.

He also asked if the DfE has a “detailed” understanding of the turnover rates of police officers and what impact this has on police staff remaining in schools for long enough periods to support pupils.

There may also be “resistance” from pupil referral units in accepting pupils involved in knife crime, the evidence sessions showed. Halfon warned some areas have no ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ alternative provision, and queried why the most recent wave of free schools only included two new alternative providers.

“We would like the Department to confirm whether it is making it easy enough for successful bids to emerge.”

A DfE spokesperson said it was working with the education sector, the Home Office and other government departments as part of a “comprehensive multi-agency response” to knife crime.

“The education secretary has extended an invitation to Robert Halfon to further discuss the issues raised in his letter,” they added.