Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Informal Exclusions 'Sidestepping' Pupils' Rights

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Informal Exclusions 'Sidestepping' Pupils' Rights

Article excerpt

Academy backtracks on voluntary withdrawals as critics say the practice is 'unlawful'

Renewed calls have been made for schools to stop subjecting pupils to "harmful" informal exclusions, as a TES investigation has led to a London academy scrapping the practice.

Pupils at the City Academy in Hackney had, until this month, been voluntarily "withdrawn" from school by parents without these absences being recorded as fixed-term exclusions.

But headteacher Mark Emmerson said that he had decided to end the system, after questions were raised by TES.

Experts said the practice was banned under statutory guidance (see box, above right) but still happened in other schools. They warned that it potentially masked exclusions.

The City Academy said the strategy was used as an alternative for pupils whose parents did not want them sent to the "reflection room".

When first approached by TES, Mr Emmerson said: "Our parent academy agreement has existed since 2009 when the academy opened, and was based on a model used in another school at that time.

"It is used as a targeted vehicle for a discussion with a small number of parents and students who we feel are disengaging with the behavioural expectations of the school."

Some parents were asked to sign a form, seen by TES, stating: "I wish to withdraw my child from the academy...if their behaviour is such that it undermines the learning of others.

"During this time I will supervise their work at home and bring them back to school for a meeting the next day."

However, the academy has now scrapped the policy and will record all the withdrawals in 2015-16 as fixed-term exclusions.

Mr Emmerson said: "I was happy to withdraw the request forms because our parents and the local authority need to have confidence in us, not because we had any absolute direction that it was not technically acceptable within the current guidelines."

Sarah Hannett, barrister director at the School Exclusion Project, which provides pro bono advice to parents appealing exclusions, said: "[The withdrawn practice] is unlawful. If a child is to be removed from the school premises for disciplinary reasons, it needs to be recorded as a fixed-term exclusion."

The distinction was important, she explained, because an informal withdrawal unlawfully "sidesteps" various procedural rights that are associated with a formal exclusion.

For example, parents must be provided with the reasons for the exclusion in writing and the governing body must be consulted if the number of fixed-term exclusions for a pupil would exceed 15 days per term. Informal exclusions tended to be used disproportionately for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), Ms Hannett added.

Mr Emmerson said that the progress of pupils with SEND and vulnerable students at his school was "significantly better than the national average, and better than the national average for all students".

There were nine students whose parents had signed a voluntary withdrawal form in 2015-16, he added, with each form allowing a child to be taken home three times. Of these students, four had been out of school for the equivalent of one day since September 2015, three had spent half a day at home and the rest had not been taken out of school.

A 2014 inquiry by Dr Maggie Atkinson highlighted the widespread use of illegal exclusions (see box, below left).

Anne Heavey, policy adviser at the ATL teaching union, said that members regularly contacted the union to discuss informal exclusions, about which it was "very concerned".

"It can be harmful," she said. "[Pupils sent home] are missing out on valuable curriculum time. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.