To exclude or not to exclude?

Since the end of term I have felt unusually apathetic about blogging….my last blog was about our pupils leaving us, many going to mainstream high schools with little support other than crossed fingers and a fervent prayer! The reason for this? Children permanently excluded in Y6 with little or no attempt to diagnose underlying SEN/SEMH so no chance of getting them an EHCP to support them in Y7! Fourteen of them!

This situation has caused a lot of panic in our local high schools and many have demanded to know why nothing has been done. As SENCO I have patiently (screaming inside) explained why….not enough evidence etc etc. “But he’ll never last in our setting….zero tolerance ” …and so on and on and on….

Now we have gone over and above for these schools by offering strategies, staff and agreeing to attend meetings at the start of term because we care about our children. The harsh reality is, despite what Nick Glib has to say, schools are not very good at managing challenging behaviour and prefer to pass the problem on to others. One high school held a meeting and arranged for a child to go straight to the secondary PRU without even having the courtesy to consult with the PRU headteacher!!

I could write a whole blog JUST on the discourtesy that mainstream schools show to PRUs (unless they want something, usually a place for their difficult child!). I have sat in meetings where heads, social workers and doctors ‘assume’ they can send their pupils to us on a whim, like unwanted puppies to the RSPCA, without consideration of our policies and procedures! We are routinely treated as second-class citizens in comparison with ‘normal’ schools and if schools don’t get their own way, they run bleating to the local authority!!!

Now @tombennett71 blogged in his TES column in 2013 (recently reblogged by fellow tweep) that schools should exclude to restore order and facilitate a calm learning environment, and this comes complete with stereotypical picture of disruptive children in class…you know, brandishing rulers, laughing ( one stereotype everyone is happy NOT to challenge I notice!).

Now I understand this completely, as a mainstream teacher who taught in a variety of schools for over 20 years before coming to the PRU, some leafy, some very challenging! However, if a child is ‘difficult’ surely we can expect that everything has been done that can be done to find out underlying causes and problems before they head to our PRU….and that is not being ‘soft’ or ‘liberal’. The children who are coming to us often have undiagnosed dyslexia or ADHD and it is scandalous that this gets left until it is too late to put something in place to help in high school. Others have severe mental health problems and these manifest themselves in violence and the destruction of property. Schools often congratulate themselves that they have ‘managed’ these pupils since Foundation Stage but *sigh* they are too much now….they have gone too far….we have to make an example….I want to shout ‘WHY HAVEN’T YOU DONE ANYTHING USEFUL????’ As my mum would have said ‘fine words butter no parsnips’!

Now I am shaking off apathy big style!!! Just a week ago I felt tired, dispirited, wrung out and was often in tears. Those of you who read my blogs will know I am hoping to take early retirement next summer; my dad’s death made me re-evaluate my life and I am planning to go into business as an independent consultant. I love my job but my energy reserves are depleting….it seems like the world is against us at the moment…..we are a 32 place unit for God’s sake! We cannot wave a magic wand or produce miracles or be what everyone wants us to be!!

Already this year we have gone over numbers and crammed a group in a small meeting place to avoid sending any of our dual placement kids back to mainstream who weren’t ready or were heading for specialist provision! It was a bit like putting several large tigers together in a very small cage! Even then I have still had to arrange off -site provision for yet more perm exes we couldn’t accommodate due to lack of space!! Did anyone ‘out there’ care? No, just moaned about the lack of provision! !

A further disgrace is coming our way next term! We have accepted a large intake of children on respite places…..guess what? They are ALL ASD!!! Most haven’t started down the EHCP route! One HT admitted we are not the right place for her pupil but….guess what? …..there is NO WHERE else for him to go….he is on 1/1…he is costing a lot of money….he is violent! Surely this is widespread discrimination….can you imagine the outcry if schools were to send disabled children in wheelchairs (and yes, before you ask, we do have wheelchair access!) One school in the past wanted to send us an EAL child because he was ‘naughty’ and others have wanted to put nursery children on our books !! Yes Sue Cowley!

There is an ongoing debate about whether to exclude or not but Nick Glib does no favours by trying to gloss over deep and difficult issues by blithely saying schools are getting better at managing behaviour. Our small intervention team are overwhelmed by cries for help.I am constantly called on to give advice to heads and SENCOs.  We do a lot of whole school training tailored to schools’ own behaviour policies and cascade our FREE support/ knowledge to teachers and other staff. Where advice is taken on board and strategies are used effectively, schools become much more self supporting and exclusions are reduced. One school near us with a difficult catchment has not only reduced exclusions but the number of referrals to us has dropped dramatically due to good, new in- house procedures and staffing. The headteacher is happy to stand up in our regular events for mainstream to say how it has worked for her.

Yes, some schools have genuinely done everything they can for their child but many more have not! Most of our perm exes come out of the blue…. these schools have not asked for our help…… (98% of our intervention pupils successfully STAY in their schools) yet the LA tell us nothing can be done….we cannot ask for things to be put in place prior to exclusion!!

There seems to be no debate on what happens to excluded children……some as young as 4!!….other than ‘kick them out’. Why,  in a so- called civilised society, are we willing to write off very young children with huge underlying issues? Is it right to pack them like sardines in PRUs with no positive role models around them other than the adults? Yes we do a great job ( people keep telling us that!) but as we have found to our cost this year, there is a downside….going from a PRU to mainstream high is doing a disservice to our young people; we are setting them up to fail.

And what when we are full? What then? Due to government cuts down the years, the number of primary PRUS has shrunk to a THIRD! Open more say the mainstream heads! But money talks and it is saying ‘no’! In a nearby area, schools have had to resort to ‘swapping’ pupils which is just moving a problem! More cuts are looming in April….who knows if we will even survive? PRU provision is very expensive, something which is conveniently forgotten…although not by those who hold the purse strings!….

And so the debate will continue, behaviour tsars and education ministers will come and go, all favouring the ‘right to exclude’,  living in little bubbles of unreality, until, like Calais, the problem rears up and pokes them in the eye! A little research and foresight would show that Early Intervention (cheap compared to exclusion) DOES work in all but the most extreme cases and we can prove it! That is why our school may be RI on data but outstanding where it counts….out in the community! There is no magic bullet and schools need to do more for their children. One head recently remarked dryly that she had a school full of pupils that a nearby establishment struggled to manage one of!! Strange that….

I would like to see much more of a debate about ‘life after exclusion’ and we need to be creative as the money tree has withered (unless you are a Lord of course)! So Tom Bennett, I am passing you the gauntlet; you are high profile and have the power to ask questions in high places, stir the pot! And you too Laura McInerney! Let’s start a #lifeafterexclusion debate and be solution focused! Our children need us!

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11 thoughts on “To exclude or not to exclude?

  1. Soom says:

    Very well written. I left a specialist school at Easter because the latest head (in a line of 4 in 5 years all temporary) returned to exclusions as a way of managing issues. Their BESD needs were the very reason the children were with us in the first place.
    Many had low literacy levels and signs of ASD not diagnosed. Insufficient funds to meet the needs appropriately very frustrating.

  2. Leigh Taylor says:

    Brilliant insight as usual.

    After 20+ years in a range of primary schools, I also wonder why children with challenging behaviour aren’t routinely assessed by Occupational Therapists for sensory processing issues. In my experience the OTs are more proficient than EPs at assessing whole range of strengths and needs and then successful, pragmatic strategies. Best if can get both though, if needed, of course.

    As someone who always wants to find out ‘why’ rather than ‘what’ I feel mainstream could do SO much more.

  3. I am a SENCO in a mainstream primary; we refer to CAMHS for children who appear to have mental health issues – they refuse to see them until a parenting course is completed (which we’ve already suggested and applied for but parents are often loath to attend), we refer to Paediatrics for referral to OTs for sensory assessment – can be up to a 6 month wait, we refer to paediatrics to try to eliminate medical causes but generally nothing comes back (presuming parents take the children to the appointments), I am very “good friends” with my local SALT team as I make frequent referrals as a lot of our children seem to have significant receptive and expressive language difficulties. During the last year I used all 100 learning support hours and double my allowed EP hours. I seem to spend a lot of time trying to get relevant help for our children who show very challenging behaviour (whilst also trying to get relevant support for those with learning difficulties and no challenging behaviour).
    We would like to keep the children in our school with support, we ask for advice from the LA exclusion officer and talk to our local specialist provision (they are full beyond capacity), we do not have a PRU. We do apply for EHCPs (I’ve applied for 7 this year) but it is becoming progressively more difficult to even apply as the EPs have to now “give permission” for us to apply.
    I will keep working at helping all of our children but it feels like an uphill struggle.

    • I hear everything you are saying….it is extremely difficult to get the right help and support! If you struggle to get EHCPs I advise you to get parents to apply….you can help them if necessary….this has worked well in my authority and takes pressure off you as LA legally obliged to investigate…they will send in EPs…good luck next year!! :))

      • We’ve tried that as a strategy – with us helping the parents with the forms but LA seem to look dimly on parental applications (seem to think that school would have applied if there was a problem!), we still have to pay for the EP hours too. Health also often start MAAs after we refer children to them and send in the EP (yet again out of our hours) – they will often recommend that the children would benefit from an EHCP which helps on the form but guarantees nothing.
        I love my job and will keep fighting!

  4. If the LA doesn’t look kindly on parental applications then parents need to contact Jane at IPSEA as LA have legal duty..also shouldn’t come out of your school hours!! The LA said that to us at one time but we carried on and won!! Parent Partnership….I still call them that….need to be involved at an early stage…they can also help parents apply. IPSEA train them so should be up to date. Despite what LA says it is a parental right to ask for assessment which is strong in law and LAs want to avoid a legal challenge challenge so usually start the procedures! You are right not to give up….there are lives at stake here!

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