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Excluded Children

Volume 491: debated on Monday 27 April 2009

5. What recent discussions he has had with local authorities on proposals to abolish appeals panels for excluded children. (270736)

There are no proposals to abolish these panels. This Government are committed to retaining the right for parents of permanently excluded pupils to appeal to an independent appeal panel, which is an established safeguard for pupils and parents.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I am particularly concerned about talk, especially from the Opposition Benches, about stopping these panels. They are a particular safeguard for children with special needs, who we know are three times more likely to be excluded. Will she assure me, the Council for Disabled Children and the National Children’s Bureau that this Government and the education system will support these children, rather than let them down, which is much more likely should that despicable policy ever see the light of day?

My hon. Friend is right to draw that to our attention. Certainly, an amendment to that effect was tabled to the Education and Skills Bill by the Conservative party. The Special Educational Consortium said then, and we agree with it, that children with special educational needs were already disproportionately represented in exclusion statistics and the amendment would remove one of the remaining few checks and balances currently operating in the system.

Of course, schools sometimes mistake disability for disobedience. Children with special educational needs are nine times more likely to be permanently excluded from school, and the Government are rightly committed to reducing the incidents of such exclusions. In the light of that, will the Under-Secretary of State consider the merit of amending the law so that a child with SEN or disability may be permanently excluded from school only if a review has taken place of the sufficiency and effectiveness of the reasonable adjustments that have been made under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to seek to accommodate that pupil?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I pay tribute to his expertise in this area of special educational needs, and we certainly share his passion and commitment to promoting improved outcomes for children with SEN and disabilities. I am, of course, aware that he has a private Member’s Bill that is due for its Second Reading on 15 May. I believe that that is one proposal that may be considered in it. We certainly look forward to debating that.

While I accept my hon. Friend’s answers to those questions, and following on from the question asked by the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), a few years ago a pupil in a high school in my constituency physically attacked a teacher and other pupils, who required treatment for their injuries. He was then excluded but put back in the school by an appeals panel. Is not the real problem that there is not sufficient provision in publicly provided residential accommodation for young people with serious behavioural difficulties to go into from time to time?

We certainly recognise the difficulties that children and young people with behavioural and emotional problems present in schools. That is why we are looking at the review of special educational needs; we have Ofsted reviewing special educational needs and Brian Lamb looking at how we can improve the experience for parents and young people. Certainly, part of that is how we manage behaviour in schools and how we ensure that there is sufficient provision to enable these young people to fulfil their potential.

Government figures last year revealed that there was a drop of 13 per cent. in permanent exclusions between 2003 and 2007 despite a 50 per cent. increase in the number of children suspended for five times or more— 867 of them excluded for 10 times or more—at a time that saw 4,370 fixed exclusions for serious racist abuse and more than 207,000 serious offences, such as sexual abuse and violence. Yet, in no fewer than 40 per cent. of appeals against permanent exclusions, reinstatement was upheld so that pupils could return to the scene of their offences with impunity, most of them having nothing to do with SEN. Does the Minister think it right that a pupil who has been excluded for violent crime, racist or sexual abuse should be readmitted to schools under any circumstances against the better judgment of the head or the governors?

We are certainly committed to backing head teachers’ authority when pupils’ behaviour warrants exclusion. Last year, the number of successful appeals was just 1.2 per cent. of all permanent exclusions, so we must get this in balance. We obviously recognise, and we have said in response to Alan Steer's report, that repeated suspension should lead to permanent exclusion. We are certainly giving back head teachers authority in that.