Exclusion warning as schools braced for 'fresh behavioural challenges' after lockdown

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Schools must not turn to exclusion as a solution for the “fresh behavioural challenges” that are expected after the coronavirus lockdown is lifted and pupils return.

Furthermore, Ofsted inspections should be frozen until at least 2021 and retired and returning teachers should be recruited to deliver extra support for pupils when they come back to school.

A report into how we might temper the impact of the coronavirus lockdown on pupils, especially the disadvantaged, has also called for a £1bn doubling of the Pupil Premium for a year for certain pupils.

The proposals have come from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) think-tank, which has called for new government guidance on inclusion in schools in order to prevent a rise in exclusions when pupils return.

It says that there should be a renewed focus on preventing exclusions and off-rolling, which research shows to disproportionately affect disadvantaged, vulnerable or looked after children.

The EPI states: “There is a real risk that pupils will return to school with fresh behavioural challenges due to their family circumstances.” Such pressures, the EPI says, will include increased financial problems, neglect or abuse, domestic violence, parental mental health difficulties, and bereavement.

The report adds: “We know from existing EPI research that disadvantaged and vulnerable children, including children receiving social care support, are far more likely to be excluded or subject to an unexplained move out of their school than their peers (Hutchinson & Crenn-Jennings, 2019). We recommend that the Department for Education issues fresh guidance to schools about the need to avoid exclusions.”

The UK government is expected to reveal further information this weekend about when and how schools in England will re-open.

Re-opening will most likely happen in a phased manner across the UK, but there is much debate about when this should begin, with each nation setting its own timetable.

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Before the pandemic hit, research showed that disadvantaged children are already behind other pupils by 18 months of learning on average when they take their GCSEs (Hutchinson et al, 2019).

The researchers behind the new 19-page policy report have warned that poorer and vulnerable children risk falling further behind following the period of school closures.

The EPI wants its recommendations to form part of a government “Catch-up Plan” for schools in England. Alongside the recommendation for new guidance on exclusions, the proposals include:

Phased re-opening: The EPI suggests that the focus of re-opening schools should be on transition and examinations. As such, priority should be for pupils in Reception, year 6, year 10 and year 12.

Ofsted: Ofsted inspections should be suspended until “at least January 2021”. This is “to allow schools to focus this year on the challenges of re-starting education while maintaining social distancing”. This suspension should be kept under review and extended if necessary.

Pupil Premium: This should be doubled for eligible pupils in years 1, 7 and 11 for one year from September at a cost of £500m, while the Pupil Premium Plus should be doubled for one year for children in care (£263m). The aim would be to “support one-to-one or small group classes, after-school activities and other interventions”. Furthermore, Pupil Premium Plus payments should also be made available for those on the Child Protection Register (£245m). This should be a permanent policy change, the EPI recommends.

Other funding: Doubling the disadvantage funding made available for students set to enter year 13 (£242m) and doubling for one year only the Early Years Pupil Premium (£31m).

Teacher Volunteer Scheme: A national initiative targeted at retired and inactive teachers who can deliver additional sessions for disadvantaged and vulnerable children. This could be organised via a simple recruitment website. The EPI states: “The extra support required by disadvantaged pupils will require additional capacity. We recommend that the government launches a one-year Teacher Volunteer Scheme to bring back retired and inactive teachers to work in schools, supporting disadvantaged pupils with pastoral care and academic catch-up.”

Other support: The expansion of support for “vital” out-of-school services such early intervention, mental health, children’s social services and youth services. Other suggestions include summer wellbeing programmes aimed at providing positive activities and pastoral support for pupils in need.

Both the Association of School and College Leaders and National Association of Head Teachers have supported the EPI’s recommendation for a doubling of Pupil Premium funding.

Nick Brook, NAHT deputy general secretary, said: “If schools are to be held responsible for healing the scars left by Covid-19, be that educational, developmental or emotional, they will absolutely require additional funding and resources to do so.”

The National Education Union, meanwhile, has said we need to “build back better”, not rush back to normal.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, added: “These are new times with massively more numbers of families dropping under the poverty line and we are going to need new responses. A school's job is becoming one of food supply, mental health support and keeping family relationships going, more than ever before.

“The EPI is right to sound a warning signal in calling for a major strategy on inclusion after Covid. Before Covid, exclusion rates were soaring and during Covid, many parents of students with SEN are saying their child is happier at home. Let's make sure we place expectations on school staff that are realistic and that we create supportive and not punitive environments for schools.”

David Laws, executive chairman of the EPI and a former schools minister, said: “International evidence suggests that where schools and colleges focus extra teaching on disadvantaged children, this can have a real impact in improving their results. That is why alongside its plan to reopen schools, the government should also set out a targeted pupil ‘Catch-Up Plan’. A sharp rise in educational inequality is highly likely without swift and focused government action to support education providers.”

Further information

  • EPI: Preventing the disadvantage gap from increasing during and after the Covid-19 pandemic, May 2020: https://bit.ly/2xECq6X
  • Hutchinson et al: Education in England: Annual Report 2019, EPI, July 2019: https://bit.ly/2WYNmGH
  • Hutchinson & Crenna-Jennings: Unexplained pupil exits from schools: A growing problem? EPI, April 2019: http://bit.ly/2J7MKr8


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