On 24 July 2014, the Department for Education (“DfE”) published a research report entitled School Exclusion Trial Evaluation (“the Report”) which set out its findings in relation to the School Exclusion Trial (“the Trial”) which took place between autumn 2011 and August 2014.  The schools and local authorities (“LAs”) involved in the Trial were tasked with developing ways in which to avoid an exclusion situation and implement different measures that would ultimately improve the education offered to pupils at risk of exclusion. This note summarises the key points arising from the Report. It should be noted that while the survey samples did not include any academies, the findings are as relevant to academies as to maintained schools since academies are bound by their funding agreements to comply with the arrangements for exclusion applying to maintained schools.

Current approach

At present, if a pupil is permanently excluded from school, schools should take reasonable steps to set and mark work for pupils during the first five school days of an exclusion.  LAs are responsible for arranging suitable education (which usually involves alternative provision) to begin from the sixth school day after the exclusion.  In recent years there has been increasing concern about the variable effectiveness of alternative provision, due to low levels of attainment and the lack of accountability.  Increasingly, therefore, LAs are delegating some responsibilities for excluded pupils to schools and it is within this context that the Trial was implemented.

Aim of the Trial

The Trial involved volunteer schools drawn from 11 LAs and it was hoped that schools being given greater responsibility for meeting the needs of permanently excluded pupils and those at risk of permanent exclusion might lead to fewer pupils being excluded overall. Such greater responsibility included schools being able to commission alternative provision and LA’s providing funds to facilitate this.

The Trial was designed to (inter alia):

  • assess the impact on schools, pupils and LAs of devolving the responsibility for alternative provision for excluded pupils to schools;
  • assess whether the Trial had resulted in the increase of early intervention and family support measures, and whether this had had any impact on the outcomes for pupils at risk of permanent exclusion.

The Trial also took place in the context of a range of external educational reforms such as new Ofsted inspection arrangements, reforms to school performance measures and changes to alternative provision governance and funding. It was also hoped the Trial would result in less young people being Not in Education, Employment or Training (“NEET”).

Outcome of trial

The Report indicates that the Trial has had a positive impact in reducing exclusions. Part of the measures adopted involved pupils talking together with a teacher as a group about issues like bullying, and including the alleged perpetrator as part of the solution rather than repeatedly excluding them. Giving schools greater control over what happens to those at risk of exclusion meant that the school dealt with behaviour problems earlier and were more involved in deciding where the “problem” pupils should be educated.

This approach to tackling inappropriate behaviour has resulted in a significant decrease in the number of exclusions in schools involved in the Trial.  For example, Fitzalan High School in Cardiff and Monmouth Comprehensive School saw their exclusion rates drop by over 90% since they began a restorative approach to challenging behaviour three years ago.

The report also found a positive impact where excluded pupils were kept on the admission roll of the school that had excluded them, when they were taught in AP schools.  This was due to the fact that the excluding school had an interest in ensuring that the excluded pupil obtained good academic results, which would have an impact on its performance statistics and would be reviewed as part of any Ofsted inspection. As a result, the schools involved in the Trial worked to make sure that excluded pupils were placed in the most appropriate alternative provision setting with a view to raising attainment, particularly in relation to GCSE English and Mathematics.

A positive impact was also found in relation to pupils considered "at risk" of exclusion, with many of those initially placed into this category no longer being so.  This, the Report concluded, was as a result of “the changes in processes and the interventions adopted by schools” which included regularly reviewing a decision that a pupil was at risk, adjusting the support provided, and if such support was effective, removing the pupil from the “at risk” list. By making more effective use of data, schools were better able to identify and address patterns of concerning or inappropriate behaviour by implementing appropriate support for pupils.  Support from learning support units, inclusion coordinators, and revised school timetables were all considered effective methods to help improve attendance, attainment, pupil behaviour and ultimately prevent exclusions. 

Overall teachers at schools involved in the Trial reported that fewer pupils had been permanently excluded in comparison with other schools.

Conclusion

The Trial was seen by the DfE as a success with a spokesman stating: "This report reveals how this innovative approach to managing school behaviour can really help young people at risk of being excluded, the trial shows that giving schools, rather than local authorities, greater control of the funding for excluded pupils encourages them to address behavioural problems earlier”.

This is borne out by the outcomes of the Trial, in that strong systems were in place to monitor attendance, attainment and behaviour and tracking systems were also in place to monitor the destinations of young people after leaving school or alternative provision. There was also evidence that alternative provision kept young people engaged with education who otherwise might have become NEET. It remains to be seen whether the Government intends to implement wholesale changes to the existing exclusion regime as a result of the outcomes of this Trial.  However, it is clear that schools are generally working to ensure that appropriate measures are in place to help prevent the need for exclusion in the first place.