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School Exclusions

Volume 672: debated on Monday 2 March 2020

The Government back headteachers to create calm and safe schools by giving teachers the powers they need to enforce discipline and good behaviour. We are taking forward an ambitious programme of action on behaviour, exclusion and alternative provision, which will back headteachers to use exclusion, enable schools to support children at risk of exclusion and ensure that excluded children continue to receive a good education.

The Minister knows that school exclusions have increased by 70% since 2012, and he knows that children have not become 70% naughtier in that time. Something is going wrong with the system, and the consequence for society and individuals is extreme. We had a debate in Westminster Hall last week that he was kind enough to attend, but we did not have enough time to discuss all the issues. Will he be kind enough to meet me and members of the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime, which has done a report on the link between crime and school exclusions? Perhaps the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson), who has done an excellent review of why some of these issues have occurred and what we can do about it, will also want to come.

I am very happy to host a meeting, and I would enjoy discussing these issues in greater detail. The hon. Lady will know, of course, that permanent exclusion, at 0.1%, is extremely low, and is actually lower than it was in 2006-07. The research on the link between exclusion and knife crime shows it is more complicated than simply a correlation because, for example, 83% of 16-year-old knife-possession offenders in 2013 had been persistently absent from education at some point during their school career. It is absence from school that is the key factor, which is why this Government so emphasise the importance of children attending school.

The Minister mentions 0.1%, but the Education Policy Institute found that there were 69,000 unexplained exits from school in 2017 alone. Does the Minister really believe that our schools are getting better when there is a crisis of more and more pupils leaving the system? The Minister has yet to commit to implementing the report from the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson). Will he now commit to implementing all the recommendations of the Timpson review?

As I said in answer to the question from the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), the rate of exclusions today is lower than under the last Labour Government in 2006-07. We take the issues referred to in the Timpson report, such as off-rolling, very seriously. Off-rolling is unacceptable in any form, which is why we continue to work with Ofsted to define and tackle it. Ofsted already looks at the records of children taken off roll. Its new inspection framework, which came into force this September, has a strength and focus on off-rolling that we support.

When they are used effectively, fixed-period exclusions can help to address the underlying causes of poor behaviour, but when they are not, they are not able to. For some children, that means up to 45 days in an academic year when they are on a succession of repeated exclusions, which is far too long to be out of school. Will my right hon. Friend agree to look at the recommendation in my review—along with the other 29—on how we can reduce that limit of 45 days at the same time as improving practice in this important area?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his review of school exclusions. Both he and I support our headteachers in the use of exclusion, where appropriate, to ensure that they have good discipline in their schools. My hon. Friend is correct that it is possible for children to be excluded from school for 45 days in an academic year, though it is actually rare for children to reach that limit. In 2017-18, just 94 pupils were excluded from schools in England for 45 days in a single year. The Government are considering these arrangements and we will make a further announcement about our plans in due course.

Whether or not the numbers have decreased since the last Government were in office, we still have around 40 children excluded from our schools every day, at a cost of some £370,000 per child. We know that 58% of young prisoners were permanently excluded from school. These excluded children are being left behind—only around 1% get five or more GCSEs, if they get any at all. What is my right hon. Friend doing? Has he seen the report from the Education Committee in the last Parliament on transparency regarding numbers of exclusions and on schools being partially accountable for the pupils whom they exclude?

My right hon. Friend is right. We know that we have to give headteachers the tools to ensure that we have safe, calm environments in our schools. No headteacher excludes without giving the matter very careful consideration, with permanent exclusions used only as a very last resort. What is key is that exclusion from school must not mean exclusion from education, so timely access to high-quality alternative provision plays a critical role in improving excluded children’s outcomes. Our objective is to improve the quality and capacity of alternative provision.