According to a report by the Guardian, 45 schools in England excluded at least 20% of their pupils between 2016-17. Outwood academy in Ormesby was the worst offender, having excluded 41% of its students for offences as minor as wearing a coat indoors or wearing makeup.
Between 2016 and 2017, Outwood academy handed out 2,405 fixed period exclusions to 274 pupils. The school’s behaviour policy states that pupils can receive a fixed term exclusion for ‘failure to comply with a reasonable request from the principal’ – this could involve failure to wear the correct uniform. However, Outwood Academy is not the only school that hands out exclusions for minor shortcomings, this is now standard procedure in many schools across the UK.
A report by the Department of Education revealed that from 2016-17, the number of fixed term exclusions per day rose 12.5% to 381,865. This increase is a clear indication of how customary it has become for schools to exclude students, a practice that is both dismissive of a school’s responsibility to society and disruptive to the education of pupils.
On the other hand, schools in the UK are not just excluding students for wearing the wrong uniform or wearing makeup. Secondary schools have also been accused of ‘off-rolling’ students, a practice of asking certain students to leave school just before they take their GCSE exams to avoid a drop in the league tables due to poor exam results.
An Ofsted report showed that 19,000 year 10 pupils in 2016 vanished from their schools by year 11. These pupils had been victims of off-rolling, forced to move elsewhere to take their GCSE exams or not to take them at all. The same report found that off-rolling disproportionately affects disadvantaged students who are eligible for free school meals, have special educational needs or have been in care.
Schools cannot take the full burden of responsibility for the hike in exclusions. They are operating in a system that is increasingly competitive and does not reward them for doing the right thing.
Since 2010, the Conservative government have sought to convert state schools into academy schools. Academies are not subject to local authority control and therefore operate more like businesses than educational institutions, receiving a portion of their funding from local business and focusing on their public image and performance in national league tables.
These reforms have forced all secondary schools, whether they are academies, grammar schools or comprehensive schools, to concentrate less on creative methods of teaching that cater to all types of student. Instead, they have become more focused on competing in exam result league tables.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said ‘it is clear that the competitive and fragmented system produced by the academy reforms encourages schools to compete for the pupils most likely to get high grades and increase exclusions of pupils who may be more challenging to teach.’
Fixed-term exclusions and off-rolling have not increased because schools no longer care about educating their students, rather they have increased because government reforms have forced them to compete for the top spots in the league tables. This competition-fuelled system has been constructed by the Conservative government over the eight years they have been in power in an attempt to marketise education and dismember public services.
Since 2010, funding per pupil in real terms in England has fallen by 8%. As budgets are being squeezed tighter, schools are being left with no choice but to cut their pastoral care resources. Entire SEN departments are being made redundant and pastoral programmes are being slashed. Schools no longer have the resources to shower pupils who are disruptive or violent with much-needed pastoral support, so instead these pupils are being permanently excluded.
There were over 21 permanent exclusions per day between 2016-17, increasing 15% to 7,720. The outcome of permanent exclusions is brutal. Excluded students are more likely to end up becoming involved in crime or gangs than they are to end up in a new school. Both fixed term and permanent exclusions are disruptive to a pupil’s education and should only be used as a last resort. The emphasis on league tables and the government’s vicious and ideological programme of austerity are fully to blame for today’s exclusion crisis.