A parliamentary group tasked with tackling knife crime has called on the government to urgently investigate capacity and the education in the alternative provision sector.
The all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on knife crime warned of a “disturbing correlation” between excluded pupils and those involved in violent crime or gang exploitation, and said schools should be accountable for the results of every pupil they exclude.
The report, published today, also hit out at the “perverse incentives” created by Ofsted’s accountability and inspection regime, and called for a stronger multi-agency approach to keeping children safe.
However, school leaders have warned against making exclusions the “scapegoat” for knife crime, and said more funding is needed if children are to receive adequate support.
Cath Murray, alternative provision lead at the Centre for Social Justice, said the APPG was “absolutely right to highlight the serious problem of children who are not receiving their legal entitlement to full-time education”, but said the answer “isn’t yet another review”.
The APPG’s report isn’t the first to explore the link between exclusions and serious youth violence.
In February, a report from the children’s commissioner for England Anne Longfield said schools should be “held responsible” for the pupils they exclude as figures showed gang members are five times more likely to have been thrown out of school.
And earlier this month, the government decided to move forward with plans for a duty on schools and other public sector bodies to work together to tackle serious violence.
A Schools Week investigation in March showed a large increase in police call-outs to schools in the past five years, with pupils as young as 10 found with weapons.
Although pupils are entitled to full-time education from the sixth day they are excluded, the APPG report warned many are missing out. It found 47 local authorities in England (approximately one third) had no spaces in their state-funded alternative provision.
The group said the Department for Education should investigate capacity in alternative provision, including part-time provision, “as a matter of urgency” to ensure it is resourced well enough for all excluded pupils to “get the full-time provision they are legally entitled to.”
The report also criticised the use of zero-tolerance behaviour policies, which it said can lead to schools being “overly keen to jump to using exclusion rather than other behavioural interventions”.
“If we see more schools adopting stricter approaches to school discipline, we are likely to see greater use of exclusions,” it said.
Julie McCulloch , director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said school exclusions should not be made “the scapegoat for this issue”.
Instead, she said the government should focus on “insufficiency in funding” for schools and support services, and the need for “enough high-quality alternative provision”.
The report also said schools should retain accountability for the outcomes of all pupils they exclude, with a proportion of a pupils’ final results included in every secondary school that educated them since year 7.
The government has already accepted a similar recommendation from former children’s minister Edward Timpson, but has not set out how it will work.
The APPG also suggested councils appoint a leader to oversee the education of children in alternative provision, and called for closer ties between schools, police, social services, family support workers and other agencies to help protect children.
Murray agreed that every local authority should have an AP lead, required to maintain a list of all children excluded or educated in AP.
The leads should also be responsible “for ensuring that each child receives the most appropriate full-time education, only from registered providers who are quality assured by the local authority or Ofsted”, she said.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, insisted schools already work in partnership with the police and councils but said the “problem for all these agencies is that they are all under-resourced and over stretched”.
“Further obligations to work together will not solve the problem.”
A spokesperson for the DfE said the government “will always back teachers and headteachers in delivering discipline in the classroom” and permanent exclusion should always be a “last resort”.
“The issues surrounding knife crime and poor behaviour in schools are complicated and multi-faceted. Simple causal links between exclusions and crime cannot be drawn.”