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‘This is about social mobility’: Academy trust boss defends exclusions record

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The boss of an academy trust under the spotlight for high rates of temporary exclusions has insisted strict behaviour expectations “prevent chaos” in its challenging schools.

The Outwood Grange Academies Trust (OGAT) has been the focus of several articles this year for some of the highest rates of fixed-term exclusions across the country. As revealed this week, the trust’s schools suspended the highest proportions of pupils across four of ten areas that received letters from Ofsted.

But Martyn Oliver, who became chief executive of the trust in 2016, said the figures were a combination of taking over schools that had been failing for years, and diligently recording all suspensions.

Speaking exclusively to Schools Week, he said: “They are about setting a reasonable level of behaviour in turnaround schools, to prevent chaos.”

He said suspensions, which he described as a better word for fixed-term exclusions to stop any conflation with permanent exclusions, were a “measure of what a school is willing to accept”.

Sending a pupil home for refusing to follow a teacher’s instructions and after other interventions have failed, or following a serious one-off incident, helped to change the behaviour culture in a school.

In “almost all cases” pupils were suspended for no more than a day, and only up to five days in exceptional cases.

But there has been controversy over its approach. An article in The Guardian in August quoted parents who said their children had been suspended for having a toilet break that was deemed “too long”, refusing to wear a Cancer Research UK badge, and for wearing socks with a logo. One pupil was said to have been suspended 43 times in a year.

The children who have been subject to a suspension are performing better across the whole school before we turned up, in most cases

Oliver said school leaders had to deal with a “massive set of dynamics” when the trust took over schools in special measures. “It’s a much more nuanced decision than people make out.”

He said “parental confidence” had gone “way back up”. “The children who have been subject to a suspension are performing better across the whole school before we turned up, in most cases.”

Oliver also pointed to the trust’s Ofsted record. Outwood Academy Brumby and Outwood Academy Foxhills moved from inadequate before the trust took over to good a few years after.

Twelve of the trust’s 31 schools were in special measures when it took them over; of those, 11 were now good or outstanding.

But are the most vulnerable pupils left behind under OGAT’s approach to behaviour?

Oliver said many of his schools had particularly challenging intakes. For instance, schools in Middlesbrough took in many pupils from a primary pupil referral unit.

“This is about social mobility. The standards we ask for are the standards that all good schools would want, and expect. This is about allowing transformational social mobility.”

His schools also used “personalised learning centres” to support such pupils.

Suspensions are not off-rolling, but people sometimes treat us like they are

The trust has said that as the “aspirations and culture” of its schools changed, the number of exclusions would fall.

Oliver said many schools did not record their half-day suspensions as diligently as OGAT, and did not receive the same level of scrutiny.

He said he was also irked by the confusion over “off-rolling”, where pupils were illegally removed from schools.

“Suspensions are not off-rolling, but people sometimes treat us like they are.”

One of his first acts as chief executive was to change trust rules so that evidence of off-rolling, which he called “abhorrent”, would result in immediate disciplinary action.

And in September OGAT introduced a new behaviour policy after leaders were challenged to reduce suspensions without “affecting standards”.

While the new policy still emphasised “high standards”, it provided “even greater options for students to choose to correct their behaviour” before facing exclusion.

 

 



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4 Comments

  1. Martyn Oliver is absolutely right! Challenging schools need very clear behaviour expectations to improve, ‘suspension’ is an important tool in OGAT’s large and high quality toolbox. Inclusion and Social Mobility are simply woolly sound bites unless students are successful. Organisations with a successful track record are genuinely transforming lives and OGAT is one of them. There are two groups that needed to be included those whose behaviour and attitudes need to be changed but also the large majority who have their schools, lessons and activities regularly disrupted. How are they included by an ineffective approach. It is easy to reduce exclusions, don’t do it or do it less. Anyone who thinks that low exclusions automatically indicates either good behaviour and/or a commitment to inclusion and social mobility is in cloud cuckoo land. Having the will and courage to do what needs to be done comes from values and commitment. Sadly success always comes with criticism from many quarters, some call it professional jealousy for others it is linked to other agendas. I think we should say thank you and well done rather than spend time looking for the wet blankets.

  2. I agree with Michael’s comments. My daughter is thriving at an Outwood Grange Academy school and she wasn’t happy in school before they took over. She and her teachers are now safe in school which they weren’t before OGAT stepped in to turn the school around.
    Stop scrutinizing OGAT to smoke screen what’s going on in schools with special measures and requires improvement ratings. Plus parents moaning about their children being issued with consequences for logo socks, it’s simple, don’t send them in logo socks!

  3. J Humphrey

    So true about schools hiding exclusions under various guides and therefore get away with it. My school, currently one of the best performers in the country for P8, have hidden exclusions under various names to get around not reporting them. They also remove certain detentions off the system, so they don’t have to be reported to the governors and therefore we look as if we have excellent behaviour.

    It’s all about managing data these days.

  4. OGAT are right to rebrand it a suspension as too many parents/non-school people think exclusion is permanent. I’ve worked for two Outwoods in my region and have to say their systems really do calm what were chaotic schools. But it’s a very much a system-led academy trust, works for most pupils, but not all. They are completely obsessed with results, it’s all SLT talk about, they’ll say it’s about the pupils futures but the reality is they want to be top of league tables, often sidelining arts and sports in favour of more and more maths and English. Some kids just do English maths science all week in y11! It’s grim and they need the strict behaviour system to keep those kids from going crazy. They also don’t put much emphasis on SEN training, most staff are unaware of how to plan for these pupils and they just get excluded more and more – or suspended if that’s what they say! All in all, OGAT is good for the majority but not the minorities