My Lords, every child in this country should have the opportunity to receive a decent education. This includes children in alternative provision, many of whom are vulnerable or disadvantaged. To help achieve this, we will expand alternative provision schools and improve their quality so that their pupils receive an education on a par with their mainstream peers. Special and alternative provision will continue to be an integral part of the free schools programme.
I thank the Minister for his reply. However, exclusions from mainstream education have increased dramatically over recent years. County lines gangs and drug gangs generally target these vulnerable children as they emerge from their pupil referral units. They are sitting ducks for those criminals. Will the Minister initiate a review within government of the urgent need to provide professional mental health care and help with communication problems for children identified as at risk of exclusion? The important point is to keep children in mainstream education while addressing their often severe mental health and other problems. This will cost money, but it will be a fraction of the hundreds of millions which would otherwise be spent on police, courts and, most particularly, prisons, as these children pursue a lifetime of drug-related crime.
My Lords, to put things in perspective, the level of exclusion has remained broadly stable over the last 15 years at 0.1%. However, I take on board the noble Baroness’s comments. More needs to be done in mainstream education, which is why we are announcing and rolling out our behaviour hubs to try to stop children being excluded. The quality of alternative provision also needs to be improved continuously to deal with some of the issues that she raised.
My Lords, as the Minister knows, the problem is that many excluded pupils go into unregistered alternative provision. In many cases, this does not have simple things such as a register or safeguarding procedures. One of the reasons this happens is because local authorities, which are responsible for this, choose unregistered provision because it is cheaper. They say that they have a quality assurance regime. Will the Minister liaise with Ofsted and the Local Government Association to make sure that this quality assurance regime complies? Finally, where are we up to on a register for all children who go missing?
My Lords, the noble Lord raises a good point on the link-up between the Local Government Association and Ofsted. I certainly recommend that the Local Government Association write to HMCI to outline the issues that the noble Lord has raised. There should be a closer join-up. Essentially, such a school is illegal if it has more than five pupils and is teaching a full curriculum—that is the bottom line of an unregistered setting. If there are failures in the two linking up, that needs to be improved. We have announced a broader review of the whole SEND system, on which we will provide details soon.
My Lords, far too many pupils are expelled from our schools today and it is a disgrace. Teachers want to get rid of their most difficult children, particularly to improve their exam results. Should not the Government look at the whole principle of exclusion and see whether it should be more strictly monitored? The schools that I promote—university technical colleges—very rarely use exclusion. We work with disengaged and difficult children; we train them properly so that they can have a better life and get a job.
I acknowledge the great work that my noble friend is doing with UTCs, and he is right that they have attracted an excessive number of children who are more broadly off-rolled rather than excluded. As I said in answer to an earlier question, the level of exclusion has not spiked particularly; the more pernicious practice is off-rolling. In the new inspection framework that Ofsted rolled out in September, much more focus goes on to that and a school’s rating can be adversely affected if evidence of it is found.
I was pleased to hear the Minister support the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Baker. Further to that point, children with special educational needs and disability account for almost half of permanent exclusions and so-called off-rolling, often in situations where parents are encouraged to remove their child from school for reasons more beneficial to the school than to the pupil. Last year, the Government commissioned the Timpson review, which contained the recommendation that the Department for Education should ensure that schools were held responsible for children whom they excluded and accountable for their educational achievements thereafter. The Government accepted all 30 of the Timpson recommendations. What steps have been taken to ensure that head teachers cannot simply wash their hands of children whom they take off the school roll?
The noble Lord raises a very good point and is correct that the Timpson review made a number of recommendations that we accepted. Work is ongoing to look at the feasibility of its implementation, and we will make announcements on that shortly. On an expelled child being rated back to the school from which he or she was removed, in theory it is a very good idea, but we need to be careful because it will obviously depend on the quality of the provision where he or she was sent, and it would not be right for the referring school to be penalised. More active thinking is going on with our larger academy trusts about creating their own APs so that they own the problem. In the longer term, this is probably a more useful solution, as it means that the system is better joined up.
The noble and learned Baroness is right that mental health is a more prevalent issue among these vulnerable children. In our Green Paper Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health published in December 2017, we made various commitments, including the creation of mental health support teams and 25 trailblazer sites delivering 59 mental health support teams by December 2018. Those teams are expected to complete their training by the middle of this year and will be fully operational following it. A further 123 mental health support teams will be introduced in 57 sites over the next 24 months.