A recent report by the Education Committee has put forward recommendations regarding AP (Alternative provision) and exclusions in schools and how they can better meet the needs of their student populations. The report identifies the shortcomings of AP and the importance of ensuring that if children are receiving AP, then it is of a high quality and is making a positive impact on their education. The rise in exclusions has also raised concerns of a lack of early intervention and support, and whether schools are in fact adopting the right policies to deal with these issues. Below you will find the main points regarding the effectiveness of AP and schools’ current exclusion policies, how this relates to bullying and their analysis of how to tackle the problem.
The number of young people facing exclusion and being referred to AP is on the rise, with 47% of children in AP being 15-16 years old, putting a strain on the AP sector and the quality of education it can provide. The report considers how a failure to identify patterns of behaviour and intervene early is contributing to the number of referrals to AP; teachers and schools being ill equipped to deal with these challenges. The number of SEN and disabled pupils being excluded is also of concern, and has put additional strain on the AP sector, due to a failure to understand and cater to their needs. It stresses the need for the Government to
issue guidance to all schools reminding them of their responsibilities to children
and that bodies such as Ofsted should look to introducing measures that encourage schools to adopt more inclusive policies, rather than zero-tolerance behaviour policies which are arguably leading to higher rates of exclusion.
Zero-tolerance behaviour policies
Much of schools’ adoption of zero-tolerance behaviour policies has led to a substantial rise in the number of exclusions and the referral of pupils to AP. Matthew Dodd, Head of Policy at the National Children’s Bureau, said that
on curriculum, the same as with behaviour policies, the more rigid you make a structure the more difficult it is for children who are different to fit into that
Which suggests that schools need to revise their behaviour policies and consider that punitive punishments are not always the best course of action. The report recommends that the Government looks into creating specialist AP’s that will meet the diverse needs of the pupils being referred; offering the support that schools didn’t have the capacity to do.
Referral to AP due to bullying
The report found that if AP is indeed deemed to be a necessary provision, it is important that it fully meets the needs and requirements of students referred. This is all the more important given the fact that many had been referred to AP for reasons other than exclusion; namely due to bullying and problems at school extending from it. Therefore, many children who were in AP were not there due to behavioural problems, rather it was an option taken by schools that were unable to deal with the situation at hand. An important recommendation highlighted, focuses on the necessity of teachers and schools having access to the appropriate training to deal with these kinds of issues before they refer children to AP.
Part of their core proposals focus on incentivising schools to train experienced staff whose job it would be to lead on mental health, providing a safe environment where students feel they can access the support they need. The report cites one young person who claims they
gave up with the school system
because of the lack of support they were offered, others claiming that experiencing isolation due to bullying had long term effects on their own wellbeing. This suggests that schools need to do more to take bullying seriously in schools and act on reports of bullying. In paragraph 82, the report said:
Many of the young people we spoke to talked about being put in isolation in mainstream school for large parts of academic years. Some of the pupils were put in isolation for behavioural reasons, while others were removed from the classroom for other reasons, including because they were victims of bullying....
ABA is very concerned that the inquiry found that pupils are removed from the classroom as a result of their being bullied.
What are the recommendations to schools?
There is an onus on schools to be prioritising the wellbeing of their students, informing parents and the wider school community about how they can best support those in need of services and advice. It was suggested that in-house AP could prove successful, preventing exclusion and offering greater quality support to pupils, who would maintain a connection with the school this way. Essentially AP is diverse, and so a one-size-fits-all approach is not the answer, rather schools need to consider how the exclusion process affects the long term educational prospects of referred pupils in their own school.
The report sought to highlight the negative impact of particular school behaviour policies which have contributed to high exclusion rates and referrals to an already strained AP sector. It suggests that there is a responsibility on schools to revise their disciplinary policies and reconsider how they deal with behavioural issues and what in-school provision could look like. It said that some staff don’t have the ability to offer the support that students need; whether they are SEND, have behavioural problems or are being bullied. Mainstream schools essentially need to be more proactive in sharing expertise and best practise in regards to AP, supporting teachers to offer the best support to their diverse student population.