OGAT threatened with academy rebroker over ‘high’ suspensions

A termination warning notice has been issued over exclusions at Outwood Academy Ormesby

A termination warning notice has been issued over exclusions at Outwood Academy Ormesby

28 Jan 2023, 5:00

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The government has threatened to remove a school from a turnaround academy trust dubbed as “one of our most successfully performing” by former academies minister Lord Nash.

The Department for Education published a termination warning notice on Friday threatening to re-broker Outwood Academy Ormesby because it excludes too many pupils.

The school, run by Outwood Grange Academies Trust (OGAT), was downgraded from ‘good’ to special measures in October.

In the warning notice sent the same month, the government voiced “concern” over Ofsted’s findings that a “high proportion of pupils are suspended from school”.

Inspectors called for more “consistent” behaviour management to curb suspensions (also known as fixed-term exclusions) and exclusions at the Middlesbrough secondary.

OGAT said the trust took on some of the most deprived, historically under-performing and “challenging” schools in the country – with the vast majority rated ‘good’ or better.

The termination warning notice follows a trust-wide drive since 2018 to cut suspensions. OGAT had been under scrutiny over highest suspensions nationally and strict discipline policies.

But other schools have also been criticised. Despite being rated ‘outstanding’ this month, Ofsted said suspensions were “too high”, albeit falling, at Outwood Academy Valley in Nottinghamshire.

It also criticised OGAT last year for “high” exclusions and internal isolations at its City Fields academy – and “too high” internal exclusions at its Ripon academy.

Analysis of data via SchoolDash Insights suggests suspensions averaged 43.3 for every 100 OGAT pupils in 2020-21 – 10 times national averages.

The term “exclusion” also appeared in more OGAT inspection reports than average nationally every year, bar 2020 and 2021.

OGAT praised for AP

But Ofsted raised no concerns at other recently inspected OGAT secondaries, including two ’inadequate’ schools now rated ‘outstanding’. Suspensions were also falling at two other secondaries in Wakefield.

Meanwhile OGAT’s alternative provision centre, created to prevent exclusions, was rated ‘good’ this month.

The trust has previously linked high but often short suspensions to introducing behaviour standards, and unusually diligent reporting.

An OGAT spokesperson said the challenging schools it took on were being “transformed” by high standards, personalised support and academic rigour.

Trust schools have “never been so popular”. Ormesby leaders were already tackling challenges before July’s inspection, with “excellent progress” since, he added.

Suspensions at ‘outstanding’ Outwood Academy Valley were “a last resort” but needed to stop a minority disrupting “the vast majority of well-behaved students”.

‘Heated’ debate on exclusions and crime

A study this month suggested academisation increased pupils’ short-term chances of suspension by 2.6 percentage points.

This could reflect “new discipline policies”, although researchers acknowledged conversion’s longer-term impacts could be different.

The study, by the Behaviourial Insights Team, also claimed a pupil excluded in year 10 increased their chances of being in police custody before turning 17 by 33 percentage points. Suspension increased it by 1.3 percentage points.

Anne Longfield

Researchers called it the “first such project” using techniques able to estimate a causal effect. Findings should be “taken seriously” given the thousands of exclusions and hundreds of thousands of suspensions annually.

They acknowledged an “ongoing and often heated argument” about a so-called “school-to-prison pipeline”.

Anne Longfield, the chair of the Commission on Young Lives, said it “backs up” stories she heard about exclusion as a “trigger point that can lead to exploitation or criminalisation”, and urged a “culture of inclusion”.

Tom Bennett, the government behaviour tsar, called the study “interesting and innovative”, but dubbed its conclusions “debatable”.

Any impact was “far smaller than has been claimed by those who talk of a school-to-prison pipeline”, he said. It gave “little reason” to curb exclusions as a cost-effective tool to reduce youth crime.

Thomas Martell, director of the North East Learning Trust’s research and training institute, said the study showed “the power of linking together different data” – but involved “lots of assumptions” so should be interpreted cautiously.

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  1. Martin Loughbrough

    Correlation is not causation. Exclusions may not cause a slide into crime but be caused by the students already being pulled in that direction.

    Think rain and umbrellas. Higher umbrella use is linked to higher percentages of rainfall. But umbrellas don’t cause rain.

    One problem for all schools including the OTA academies is the severe lack of support for at risk students available beyond the school. That is true whether the students are in the school (desirable) or finally excluded, even after managed moves etc. (Sometimes necessary).
    I have no connection with the OTA group…

    • Chris Wilson

      That’s a ridiculous analogy. The part of the causation/correlation is that would a life of crime happen without the exclusion? Possibly. Would and increased level of rain in Egypt cause an increase in umbrella sales? Yes, and it would be definitely down to the increased rainfall. People putting up their umbrellas do not cause rain, you’re right, but people don’t do that. We do know that children who are excluded a lot end up in crime. You may be right that this is correlation rather than causation but under any measure, a 43.3% average exclusion rate is not good enough and has shades of ‘off-rolling.’