Over half of secondary schools use 'internal inclusion units', DfE research finds

Over half of secondary schools and a minority of primaries are using “internal inclusion units” as a behaviour strategy – but not many schools have evidence that such strategies actually work.

The Department for Education has this morning published investigative research it commissioned into alternative provision, following concerns from MPs and school leaders about rising exclusions and the low academic performance of pupils in AP.

The Department for Education commissioned IFF Research to carry out telephone depth interviews with 276 schools and 200 alternative providers, alongside 25 in-depth case studies with alternative providers between February and June 2018.

The research found many alternative providers are worried schools are incentivised to permanently exclude their pupils rather than give them fixed-term exclusions, as then the local authority rather than school will be forced to fund the pupil’s education.

The AP providers said this was “short-sighted” as short-term placements were more effective in ensuring pupils remained in mainstream education.

Academics at IFF Research also found that over half of the secondary schools they spoke to made use of internal isolation rooms, or isolation rooms, to support pupils at risk of exclusion. A minority of primary schools also used the rooms.

The approach was “more likely” to be used by mainstream school, particularly academies.

The nature of the inclusion units varies across schools, researchers found. Some schools called them ‘sanction rooms’ with the emphasis was on punishment. Others emphasised keeping the pupil away from other children. Some schools saw the unit as a more supportive environment.

But a common theme across all the schools was thinking “they offered a halfway point between excluding a pupil and keeping them in the mainstream classroom.”

The report follows a row over the use of internal inclusion units or isolation spaces after reports of pupils sitting in silence on their own for hours for minor infraction of school rules.

In particular, the behaviour policy of the Outwood Grange Academies trust, which has 31 schools based in the north, caused consternation after The Guardian revealed teachers were instructed to “ignore” pupils in isolation rooms.

But the trust said the rooms were a place for pupils to “calm down, reflect and often self-correct their behaviour that may have led to that situation”.

Researchers, in today’s report, also warned  schools don’t actually know whether such behaviour policies are having the desired effect on pupils.

“There was a lack of hard evidence of schools evaluating the impacts of preventative strategies,” they wrote.

Schools are claiming that avoiding an exclusion is evidence of success, but as the schools don’t carry out formal evaluations they are “unable to determine it was the preventative strategies that led to this outcome,” the report stated.

Education secretary Damian Hinds confirmed earlier today the government is not ruling out legislation to make schools more accountable for the children they place in alternative provision.

Ahead of a round table meeting about alternative provision at the Centre for Social Justice today, Damian Hinds said a legal mechanism to hold schools to account for permanently excluded pupils is “not off the table”.

The report also found  that many parents felt their school could have done more to keep the pupil in mainstream education, and before the referral many would have preferred this.

Parents responded better when given ‘taster days’ of the alternative provision, and many then preferred the smaller class sizes and specialist support available once their child had moved over.

The sample of schools and APs was drawn from the government’s Get Information About Schools service, with independent AP providers found via the internet and publicly-available directories.

The report said the research is “qualitative in nature” and is not intended to provide a representative distribution of all providers.