VRP Launches Additional Guidance for Head Teachers About The Decision to Permanently Exclude Children From School
Merseyside’s Violence Reduction Partnership (VRP) is pleased to launch its additional guidance to schools when it comes to making a crucial decision about the direction of a child’s life when they consider permanent exclusion from schools. The guidance supports universal and targeted educational activities, which is one of the VRP’s priority areas.
The guidance will highlight areas of thought that supports schools in considering the best way to manage a pupil’s disruptive behaviour. It is hoped that this might decrease the current number of permanent exclusions – a final solution, which frequently results in a detrimental effect on children’s lives.
The additional guidance asks: Is permanent exclusion our last resort, or is there an alternative way of supporting this child to avoid adverse effects for his/ her future?
“By highlighting the principles, consequences and identifying local-level support, the VRP sees this guidance as a valuable tool to assist schools when undertaking the difficult job of considering exclusion sanctions,” says Roger Thompson, Merseyside VRP’s education lead and author of the guidance.
“Whilst permanent exclusion is rightfully at the disposal of every head teacher, the long-term consequences for the 200 Merseyside children annually affected is immense, not least because of the increased links to criminality. This guide aims to help inform the decision making processes of schools, ensuring that all other potential options are truly exhausted.”
“Additionally, as schools deliver on their recovery plans in response to COVID-19, the risk of a further rise in exclusions is a regularly-voiced concern expressed by educational experts.”
Currently, the loss of routine, structure, social interaction and freedoms for children during these difficult months may present as challenging behaviours in school. Previous pandemics have shown that children who experienced quarantine or social isolation were more likely to require mental health interventions. In today’s situation, we also have potential exposure to other forms of adversity and trauma, so the likelihood for disruptive behaviour may well rise.
In its bid to identify ways of reducing serious violence in Merseyside, the additional guidance aims
to help schools in their decision-making by ensuring they are aware of all influencing factors because, once excluded, many children are faced with a trigger point of becoming involved in serious harm. That might involve getting involved in crime and violence such as county lines, (being groomed by drug gangs).
Between 2017 and 2019, around 4,500 children and young people in Merseyside encountered at least one period of exclusion, and nearly 400 pupils were permanently excluded in the last two full academic years.
“Unfortunately, the effects of permanent exclusion for a child can be long lasting and life-limiting. Even the stigmatisation that surrounds this has been proved in research to result in reduced life chances, limited opportunities for self-development and inhibited engagement in wider society,” says Roger. “So, the label of having been “excluded” can significantly shape the child’s actions through to adulthood, often resulting in further negative outcomes.”
“I am exceptionally proud of the VRP’s additional guidance for schools, which has been very well received by a number of professionals from the sector,” says Detective Superintendent Andy Ryan, who leads Merseyside’s VRP.
“I believe that this will support head teachers who face a serious decision at a crucial time in a child’s life – when they need all the information they can get before drawing their conclusions. It’s about keeping our eyes on how to best reduce serious violence within a bigger life picture, and permanent exclusion, as a proven trigger point, is a prudent place to tread sensitively.”
Highlights from the guidance to head teachers include the considerations about:
- The potential to criminalise a child: without school in their lives, children have fewer protective factors (eg trusted adults) so they are at risk of disengaging from education altogether. If they’re not found a good educational alternative this makes them vulnerable to criminality.
- Everyone working in education being trained to understand vulnerability, trauma, stigmatisation and the effect of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). In a trauma-informed school, the questions focus on what has happened to a person when they are not handling challenging situations well rather than what is wrong with them.
- Schools should be equipped to help children who have already experienced trauma in their life to identify and manage their coping mechanisms through a ‘trauma-informed approach.’ Without that setting, this might induce even more trauma.
- Without time spent in schools, the extra free time for a vulnerable child generates opportunities for criminals to exploit them. Drug gangs may groom them to be sent to other counties to sell drugs, traffic drugs or weapons.
- Whether the disruptive behaviour is an indication of unmet and undiagnosed needs, such as trauma, mental health or family difficulties? Schools need to identify causal factors and intervene early to reduce the need for punitive action.
- In relation to knife crime, schools should work in partnership to both safeguard perpetrators and victims – a child may be both at the same time. Vulnerability is the most common denominator found in children carrying bladed objects in school. Almost invariably, these children have experienced poverty, abuse or neglect or are living within troubled families. Possession of knife alone should not be grounds for permanent exclusion and needs to be considered sensitively.
Early reviews from professionals involved in education and community safety
“On occasion, headteachers have to make the critical and very difficult decision regarding whether or not to permanently exclude a child from school. As the Head of a Pupil Referral Unit, I feel the VRP’s extra guidance offers timely and useful principles to note, which will help school leaders enormously when faced with this challenging dilemma.”
Louise Riley, Headteacher, Meadow Park School, Knowsley
“Clear and concise document, which summarises the issues perfectly and the section at the back with what’s happening in each borough from a School Improvement and Youth Offending perspective is really helpful.” – Jillian Summers, Head of Safer and Stronger Communities, Liverpool
“The guidance provided by the VRP is a fantastic addition to statutory guidance and provides further insight with regard to the devastating effects a permanent exclusion can have on a child. It also helps to build strong partnerships between local authorities across the Merseyside region, which is very helpful – thank you. ”– Anna Dollard, Inclusion Strategy Manager, Children’s Dept, Wirral Council
“This is an excellent report by Merseyside’s VRP, and Vibe recommends that all headteachers across the UK consider this guidance. It delivers a message that headteachers are not alone – there is extra support. While young people at risk of exclusion can be disruptive for all within the education setting, the decision to permanently exclude a young person is a pivotal moment; not just for them as an individual but for the wider community too. Before deciding on permanent exclusion, we believe it is essential that all other options have been exhausted.” – Paul Oginksy, CEO, Vibe UK.
View the additional guidance here: https://merseysidevrp.com/media/1200/mvrp-extra-guidance-for-head-teachers-re-permanent-exclusion-sept-2020.pdf
Tori Hywel-Davies, Merseyside Violence Reduction Partnership (MVRP) Victoria.firstname.lastname@example.org / 07980 971803 / 0151 777 8095
Notes to Editor
- This guide has been produced as an additional narrative for Merseyside schools and does not replace the Department for Education’s statutory guidance on exclusions (2017). Further guidance has also been issued during the coronavirus outbreak regarding the potential for remote access meetings and the extending of timescales where required for governing boards and independent review panels. More can be read here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/school-exclusion
- Elements of the statutory guidance are referred to alongside views which have been formulated from recent reports including: ‘Safeguarding Children/Young People in Education from Knife Crime’ (OFSTED 2019), the All Party Parliamentary Group report on Knife Crime (2019), the Children’s Commissioner’s report on ‘Keeping Kids Safe’ (2019) and the Child Safeguarding Practice Review report, ‘It Was Hard to Escape’ (2020).