Exclusions from school
Exclusion from school is a complex area. Misunderstandings between young people, their parents/carers and YOT staff can lead to mis-reporting of a young person's educational status.
Children and young people not receiving education
The statutory guidance for local authorities in England was revised, after a public consultation, in 2008. The new guidance strengthens the requirements of local authorities to keep children and young people safe, and placing a greater responsibility on them to quickly identify and provide support for children and young people who are not receiving a suitable education. Many of these children and young people have been excluded from school and are at risk of entrance to the criminal justice system.
The YJB welcomes this revision as it strongly reflects their evidence and experience of the needs of excluded children and young people. It also supports the YJB's objectives within PSAs 14 and 23 (to prevent first-time entry to the criminal justice system and reducing reoffending).
Young people can be excluded from school either permanently or for a fixed period. In the case of a fixed-period exclusion, a young person would be forbidden from attending school for a specified number of days, up to a maximum of 45 days in a school year. It is important to note that while a young person is excluded from school but remains on the school roll, the school has the responsibility to set and mark appropriate work. This applies to young people who are awaiting the final decision with regard to a permanent exclusion, as well as those on fixed-period exclusions.
In all cases the school must inform parents/carers in writing. This notice should include details of rights of appeal. The governing body and the local authority should be informed each term of all students excluded, but they should be notified as soon as possible of any young person excluded for five days or more, or who would miss a public examination.
If a head teacher decides to exclude a young person permanently, the decision has to be ratified by the governing body of the school. Once this has happened it is the responsibility of the local authority to find an alternative placement for them. This could be in another school, or Pupil Referral Unit, or in some other full-time placement suitable to the needs of the young person. Once a permanent exclusion is ratified by the governing body of the school the young person becomes the responsibility of the local authority and they should provide full-time education within the next 15 days. This threshold will be reduced to five days under provisions in the new Education and Inspections Bill.
Sometimes a young person may say they are excluded when in fact they are still on the roll of a school, but have not attended for a while. This is sometimes called an unofficial or back-door exclusion. This may be the result of a young person being sent home after an instance of poor behaviour, where they have been asked not to return to school until the parent/carer has made an appointment to discuss matters with a senior member of staff. This is not good practice, unless the school makes an urgent effort to engage the parent or carer in a discussion to enable the young person to return to school as soon as possible. This is a situation where young people can easily slip through the net and not return to school.
In the worst cases schools are content for the young person not to return and allow challenging children to fall out of the education system. This is very poor practice and is technically illegal. However the best way forward is to engage the school as an advocate for the family to get them back to school or to negotiate alternative provision if that is more appropriate. This can be more effective than threatening schools with legal action.
Government guidance, issued in October 2008, has cleared up misunderstandings about unofficial exclusions:
- "If the head teacher is satisfied that, on the balance of probabilities, a pupil has committed a disciplinary offence and the pupil is being removed from the school site for that reason, formal exclusion is the only legal method of removal. Informal or unofficial exclusions are illegal regardless of whether they are done with the agreement of parents or carers."
- If it becomes apparent that a child has been unofficially excluded the local authority will need to challenge the school as this practice is unlawful.
- This guidance should help YOTs who have complained that this is a barrier for a significant number of school-age young people.
- Information for parents is available from the Advisory Centre for Education (ACE) exclusions information line, 020 7704 9822, or www.ace-ed.org.uk.
Back on Track
Back on Track was introduced in 2008 as a strategy for developing 'alternative education provision' into a fundamental sector of the mainstream education structure. It is designed to meet the needs of all young people and increase their chances of success.