The committee to receive a presentation.
40.1 The committee has been concerned about this matter for some time and wanted to gain a greater understanding of the underlying issues and so was pleased to welcome the Head of Education, the Lead Commissioner for Education and Skills, the Strategic Lead for Education, Performance and Inclusion, and the Headteacher of the Stroud and Cotswold Alternative Provision School, to engage with the committee on this matter. (For information the presentation slides were uploaded to the council website and included in the minute book.)
40.2 The committee was informed that permanent exclusions were a serious problem in Gloucestershire. Data showed that the number here was not only higher than our statistical neighbours but also higher than the national average. Alongside this there was also a record level of elective home education. A particular concern was the growing number of permanent exclusions at the primary level. Research undertaken by Research in Practice (www.rip.org.uk) on education outcomes has shown that stability was a key factor in achieving good educational outcomes. It was felt that not all schools had the level of confidence needed when dealing with challenging behaviour; and it was known that if there were developing issues with a student then it was important to deal with the situation immediately – speed was a key issue.
40.3 It was questioned whether the move to Academies was a particular factor. It was noted that whilst there might be some relevance to the type of school, the Director of Children’s Service’s informed the committee that permanent exclusions had been an issue for Gloucestershire for some time and was getting worse, and she therefore did not think that there was a direct causal link to the education structure itself. The Director also informed members that the same issues were faced across the country so for her the question was why was there a particular issue in Gloucestershire?
40.4 The committee engaged in a robust discussion and debate on this matter. A particular factor coming through the debate was the potential negative impact of students with challenging behaviour on a school’s position on the academic ‘league’ tables, and the part that this may have when a school was considering permanently excluding a student. There were also different pathways to becoming a teacher and it was questioned whether they all gave sufficient opportunity for training in how to work with children and young people with challenging and persistently disruptive behaviour. Members were interested to note that the majority of teachers, nationally, have less than ten years experience of teaching which could be a factor in this regard. Also, classroom sizes were increasing (potentially 30+) which made managing challenging behaviour difficult particularly if there were students with special needs in the classroom, with insufficient levels of individual support.
40.5 For members an over-riding concern was that if students were not in school they were missing out on education, and opportunities to develop their socialisation skills; and if they were not able to access appropriate behaviour management support this could have a long term impact, not just on their education outcomes. Members agreed that that the standard school curriculum did not suit all students and it was important that there was access to more vocational education pathways. Members discussed the role of Alternative Provision in the county and agreed that this was a good pathway for many children and young people, providing alternative education opportunities, and working to support students back into mainstream schooling. Members agreed that investment in Alternative Provision was worthwhile, particularly as the standard curriculum was not a fit for all students and it was good that there were alternative options available. Members were pleased to note that last year 93% of students in Alternative Provision settings went on to further education.
40.6 In response to a question it was clarified that children in care, received additional support through the Virtual School; and that there was an agreement with schools that these students would not be permanently excluded.
40.7 Members agreed that this was a complex area and one that the committee would like to consider in more depth in the next council, potentially through a task group. Alongside the factors already discussed members would like to understand if there was a direct correlation between the increase in the number of students being home educated and permanent exclusions and the financial pressures on schools.