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Forgotten children: alternative provision and the scandal of ever increasing exclusions Contents

2What’s going wrong in mainstream schools?

“In the mainstream school there was absolutely nothing. Even when we asked for it—demanded it—we never received it. It was a battle. It was a war. That is what it felt like: a war against a parent. The education system should be a good experience for a parent as well as a child, but it never was. “

Parent of a pupil with experience of alternative provision

The rise in exclusions and pupils being educated in alternative provision

11.Many pupils enter AP as a result of being excluded from school. Exclusions can be:

Many pupils in alternative provision haven’t been excluded. These include:

12.Between 2006/7 and 2012/13, the number of permanent exclusions reduced by nearly half, but has since risen, with a 40% increase over the past three years.12 In 2015/16, 6,685 pupils were permanently excluded from school. In the same year there were 339,360 fixed period exclusions.13 However, the AP population is made up of a greater number of students than those who are just permanently excluded. There are 16,732 pupils who attend pupil referral units, AP academies or free schools and other provision like FE colleges. This doesn’t include a further 9,897 pupils who also attend AP but have a mainstream school as the main school at which they are registered.14 22,848 pupils are also educated in other forms of AP, which includes, but is not exclusive to, independent schools and providers that are not able to register as a school.15

13.This means that there are at least 48,000 pupils who are educated outside of mainstream and special schools during the year.16 However, this does not include pupils who are educated in alternative provision—often directed to offsite provision to improve their behaviour or for medical reasons—but who remain on the full roll of their mainstream school.17

14.According to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), some groups of children are more likely to be educated in alternative provision, or excluded, than other children. Children in care, children in need, children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and children in poverty18 are all more likely to be excluded than their peers.19 Pupils with SEN support are almost seven times more likely to be permanently excluded than pupils with no SEN.20 Boys are more likely to be permanently excluded than girls; for every girl permanently excluded last year, over three boys were permanently excluded.21 Some ethnicities are disproportionately represented in alternative provision, including Black Caribbean, Irish traveller heritage and Gypsy Roma heritage pupils.22

15.47% of children in AP are 15 to 16 years old.23 25% of exclusions happen when children are aged 14, and half of all exclusions happen in Year 9 or above.24 More broadly, when FFT Education Datalab looked at moves pupils make, they found that there were 87,000 instances of a child leaving a state-funded school during the five years of secondary school. Moves reach their highest point in Year 9, with 75% of all moves taking place in the first three years of secondary school. 67,000 moves were to another placement in the state sector; however, FFT Education Datalab found that 19,975 pupils left a mainstream secondary school and were never recorded as being on a state-funded secondary school’s roll again.25

16.The demand for places, driven by the high numbers of exclusions, is greater than the sector can provide, with many alternative provision schools oversubscribed.26 This in turn puts pressure on the AP sector, which then affects the quality of education that can be provided to pupils who should be able to access alternative provision. Essex County Council’s written evidence said that the recent Ofsted inspections of Essex PRUs have highlighted how the lack of space that it has can impact on pupils’ “attendance, safety and turnover.”27

17.We acknowledge that throughout this report we reference ‘mainstream schools’ and it is a catch-all term covering a wide variety of schools, including maintained schools, academies, free schools, grammar schools and faith schools. The population and educational landscape will vary across the country, with some areas having different types of schools making up their provision, along with variable involvement from local authorities. It is important to understand whether there are specific types of schools that are disproportionately excluding pupils.

18.The Timpson Exclusions Review should ensure that it looks at the trends in exclusion by school type, location and pupil demographics.

The causes of an increase in exclusions and referrals to alternative provision

A lack of early intervention and support

19.Witnesses to the inquiry described many challenges facing schools which might contribute to their inability or unwillingness to identify problems and then provide support. These include a lack of expertise in schools that would allow them to identify problems.28 Schools and school representatives told us that schools no longer have the financial resources to fund pastoral support, including teaching assistants, that would often help keep pupils in mainstream schools.29 This raises the possibility that financial pressures are affecting schools’ capacity and ability to identify and support problems and provide the early intervention that is necessary.

20.The Timpson Exclusions Review should examine whether financial pressures and accountability measures in schools are preventing schools from providing early intervention support and contributing to the exclusion crisis.

21.We heard significant evidence about the increasing numbers of children with SEND being excluded. In 2015/16, there were 2,990 permanent exclusions and 148,665 fixed term exclusions of pupils with special educational needs.30 Many of these children are arriving in the AP sector with unidentified and unmet needs.31 In line with what we heard about funding challenges and a lack of expertise, we heard worrying evidence that some schools may be deliberately failing to identify a child as having SEND. The National Education Union told us that excluding pupils can save schools thousands of pounds,32 while the Association of Youth Offending Team Managers suggested that schools could be deliberately not identifying pupils as having SEND, as it is more difficult to permanently exclude a pupil with SEND.33 We also heard that schools are justifying permanent exclusions of pupils with SEND, by claiming that they will get the support that they need in alternative provision, and exclusion will speed up the assessment process.34 This then leads to pupils with SEND being left for long periods of time in alternative provision while the assessment takes place, which does not mean that a child’s needs are being met.35

22.In addition to strain being put on schools by meeting the needs of pupils with SEND, there is a greater awareness of pupils’ mental health and well-being as a factor in their educational attainment. As more is understood about the impact of poor mental health and adverse childhood experiences on children, more children are being identified as needing support. Factors in children’s lives outside of school affect their behaviour and ability to cope with school, and schools and wider support services struggle to support them.36 This was evidenced in our report The Government’s Green Paper on mental health: failing a generation, in which we looked at the factors impacting on young people’s mental health. Among other factors, pupils told us that exam stress and subject choice, along with negative impacts of social media, all impacted on their mental health and well-being.37

Behaviour policies

23.We have heard that there is an increase in zero-tolerance behaviour policies, contributing to the rise in exclusions and increase in pupils attending alternative provision.38 Matthew Dodd from the Special Educational Consortium told us that “on curriculum, the same as with behaviour policies, the more rigid you make a structure the more difficult it is for children who are different to fit into that.”39 Jules Daulby told us that there needs to be flex in the system and reasonable adjustments should be made to accommodate behaviours that arise from a child’s special educational needs, and that she does not think that zero-tolerance behaviour policies allow for that.40 We were told by one pupil that at their previous mainstream school, there “are these little things you just can’t do, or if you do them you can get excluded for it. I think most people are getting permanently excluded, just instantly, in my mainstream school right now. I don’t think they are treating everyone fairly and evenly.”41

24.While it would be reasonable of schools to take a zero-tolerance approach to drugs or weapons, a school culture which is intolerant of minor infractions of school policies on haircuts or uniform will create an environment where pupils are punished needlessly where there should be flexibility and a degree of discretion.

25.The evidence we have seen suggests that the rise in so called ‘zero-tolerance’ behaviour policies is creating school environments where pupils are punished and ultimately excluded for incidents that could and should be managed within the mainstream school environment.

26.The Government should issue guidance to all schools reminding them of their responsibilities to children under treaty obligations and ensure that their behaviour policies are in line with these responsibilities.

27.The Government and Ofsted should introduce an inclusion measure or criteria that sits within schools to incentivise schools to be more inclusive.

An increase in mental health needs

28.There are increasing numbers of children with mental health needs in schools and alternative provision.42 In January 2017, 186,793 pupils in state funded mainstream or special schools had social, emotional and mental health as their primary category of SEN.43 IPPR estimates this to be one in 50 children in the general population, and one in two pupils in alternative provision.44 Mental health issues can affect pupils in different ways, including on pupils’ abilities to cope with school, their attendance and their behaviour. Exclusion can also affect a pupil’s mental health.45 Evidence from The Association of Child and Adolescent Mental Health raised concerns that schools could be failing to intervene in a timely or effective manner when there are concerns about a pupil’s mental health as opposed to the needs being unidentified.46 Others suggested that social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs are going undiagnosed and teachers are unable to identify pupils with SEMH needs.47 In our report on the Government’s Green Paper on mental health, we recommended that the Department’s review of exclusions examined the increase of excluded pupils with mental health needs and how their needs are being met and that the Government should ensure that PRUs are sufficiently resourced to meet the needs of their pupils.48

Off-rolling, Progress 8 and a narrowing curriculum.

29.Pupils count towards the Progress 8 scores of schools if they are registered on the school’s census in the January in which they are in Year 11. While Progress 8 tracks the academic ‘distance’ travelled by a student and takes into account prior attainment, pupils who fall behind in secondary school, for example for medical reasons or because a pupil’s additional needs which were met in their smaller primary school but then become unmet in larger secondary settings, can negatively affect a school’s results. Off-rolling—the process by which pupils are removed from the school’s register by moving them to alternative provision, to home education or other schools—was raised by many witnesses, and we were told that the accountability system and Progress 8 was a major factor.49

30.We recognise that Progress 8 is a more nuanced and improved measure of school performance accountability than existed previously. But we were concerned to hear some headteachers including Drew Povey, Headteacher of Harrop Fold School, tell us that new Progress 8 measures give an incentive for exclusion.50 Kevin Courtney from the National Education Union explained that:

With Progress 8, and many other accountability measures, you know that it is more time invested to get the same result from a child in challenging circumstances. An easier thing to do is to remove the child if you are thinking about the institution instead of thinking about the child. [ … ] If we only focus on academic results, EBacc results, then that is what you get as your focus. You cannot be surprised if schools concentrate on that if that is what everybody tells them to concentrate on. For some children who are not feeling happy in that system that can lead to mental health problems and to challenging behaviour.51

31.We were told that a narrow curriculum can affect the engagement of some pupils with their education,52 and Progress 8 in particular can narrow the curriculum for some pupils.53 The National Education Union told us that SATs preparation can negatively impact on children with SEND and their access to a broad and balanced curriculum as their time is taken up focusing on SATs preparation, leaving little room for other lessons.54 One respondent to our call for written evidence acknowledged that Progress 8 can be seen as more inclusive:

It can be argued that Progress 8 is a more inclusive standard in that it reflects the average progress of all students in a school. But it is progress in a far narrower set of subjects than would have been considered before. Creative and technical subjects, which a lower-ability child would find more accessible, have lost their validity and are disappearing from many schools.55

If pupils are experiencing a narrow curriculum, they are missing out on the wider subjects and opportunities that enable them to develop social and economic capital, which is vital for their future education and adult life.

32.The Minister told us that he did not accept the argument about Progress 8 and that it is the fairest way of holding schools to account for their academic attainment. However, he acknowledged that there may be a case for schools being accountable for the future outcomes of their past pupils.56 The Department for Education has changed the methodology of Progress 8 so that the negative impact of some pupils’ scores will be reduced.57 However outliers still remain a problem because Progress 8 double counts maths and English, and it only takes two or three pupils to affect the overall progress outcome of a school. This needs looking at. These changes also do not reduce the incentive to off-roll pupils who will bring down the school’s Progress 8 score. Philip Nye from FFT Education Datalab told us that one solution was to slightly change how league tables work:

We suggested that you could change the way the league tables work and say, “Okay, let’s look at all the children who have been on-roll with you at any period of time up to Year 11 and let’s allocate their results and weight them according to how much time the child spent with you. If they were there for one term, that would only count for a relatively small amount. If they were there up until halfway through year 10 and then left, let’s say, those kids count to that extent against your results”.58

This would mean that all pupils who have spent time at a school would count towards results. Retaining a degree of responsibility would reduce the attractiveness of off-rolling as a way of schools to wash their hands of pupils who will bring down their Progress 8 score. If pupils are excluded or removed for home schooling, and if schools feel that a pupil requires or would benefit from alternative provision, this would encourage the schools that are making decisions about where to send them to make choices in the best interests of their pupils and encourage greater oversight of pupils receiving education elsewhere.

33.The Minister was clear that the practice of off-rolling is unlawful:

Off-rolling is unlawful. There is only one reason a school can exclude a pupil permanently from a school, and that is due to behavioural issues. Off-rolling, to the extent that it occurs, is unlawful. Ofsted and the system as a whole will be vigilant in looking out for those practices.59

We agree that Ofsted plays a role in ensuring that schools do not off-roll pupils. Ofsted told us that it is vigilant in looking out for these practices by training its inspectors.60

34.We do not think that Ofsted should take sole responsibility for tackling off-rolling. Off-rolling is in part driven by school policies created by the Department for Education. The Department cannot wash its hands of the issue, just as schools cannot wash their hands of their pupils.

35.The Headteachers’ Roundtable told us that schools “who retain children with challenging behaviour risk disruption, poor outcomes (significant impact on Progress 8, EBacc etc), low attendance, low staff morale, increased intervention costs [ … ], complaints from parents, high exclusions costs and ultimately, critical and high stakes Ofsted gradings.”61 We acknowledge the resourcing challenges.62 However, we also acknowledge that there are schools that are inclusive despite those challenges.

36.An unfortunate and unintended consequence of the Government’s strong focus on school standards has led to school environments and practices that have resulted in disadvantaged children being disproportionately excluded, which includes a curriculum with a lack of focus on developing pupils’ social and economic capital. There appears to be a lack of moral accountability on the part of many schools and no incentive to, or deterrent to not, retain pupils who could be classed as difficult or challenging.

37.We recommend that the Government should change the weighting of Progress 8 and other accountability measures to take account of every pupil who had spent time at a school, in proportion to the amount of time they spent there. This should be done alongside reform of Progress 8 measures to take account of outliers and to incentivise inclusivity.


12 IPPR, Making the Difference, October 2017, pp 12–13

14 Pupils are dual-registered if they attend two different schools. They are primarily registered at their main school and have a second registration at the second school. For more information see: DfE, School census 2017 to 2018, May 2018

16 IPPR, Making the Difference, October 2017, p 7

17 The Difference (ALT 94) para 3

18 This refers to eligibility for free school meals, as in schools this is the standard poverty measure.

19 IPPR, Making the Difference, October 2017, p 16

20 DfE, Permanent and fixed-period exclusions in England: 2015 to 2016, July 2017, p 5. New data was published on 19 July 2018.

22 IPPR, Making the Difference, October 2017, p 18

23 DfE (ALT 58) para 36

24 LKMco (ALT 62) para 3.1

25 FFT Education Datalab, ‘Who’s left: An introduction to our work’, accessed July 2018

26 Essex County Council (ALT 84) para 3.4; Q391 [Jules Daulby]

27 Essex County Council (ALT 84) para 32

28 Manchester Metropolitan University (ALT 87) para 1.1.4

29 NAHT (ALT 29) para 18; PRUSAP (ALT 17) para 5

31 Chaselea PRU (ALT 28) para 4; The Limes College (ALT 8) para 5; Headteachers’ Roundtable (ALT 13) para 5.4

32 NEU (ALT 41) para 2

33 Association of Youth Offending Team Managers (ALT 55) para 2

34 Ms Joanne Southby (ALT 78) para 6; London South East Academies Trust (ALT 43) para 65

35 Ms Joanne Southby (ALT 78) paras 6–7

36 Manchester Metropolitan University (ALT 87) para 1.3.1; NEU (ALT 41) paras 7–8

37 Education and Health and Social Care Committees, First Joint Report of the Education and Health and Social Care Committees of Session 2017–19, The Government’s Green Paper on mental health: failing a generation, HC 642, paras 29–36

38 Mr John Watkin (ALT 45) para 1.4; National Association of Virtual School Heads (ALT 61) para 6; ASCL (ALT 90) para 22

41 Young person with experience of alternative provision

42 Acorn Academy Cornwall (ALT 24) para m; Gloucestershire Hospital Education Service (ALT 86) para 15

44 IPPR, Making the Difference, October 2017, p 16

45 Association of Child and Adolescent Mental Health (ALT 60) para 8

46 Association of Child and Adolescent Mental Health (ALT 60) para 8

47 NEU (ALT 41) paras 18–19

48 Education and Health and Social Care Committees, First Joint Report of the Education and Health and Social Care Committees of Session 2017–19 The Government’s Green Paper on mental health: failing a generation, HC 642, para 34

49 NAHT (ALT 29) para 15; AP Network (ALT 72) para 6.2; Pavilion Study Centre (ALT 19) para 6; Qq140–141 [David Whitaker]; Q425 [Kevin Courtney]

52 Manchester Metropolitan University (ALT 87) para 2, Mr John Watkin (ALT 45) paras 1.5–1.6

53 Lancashire PRU Headteachers (ALT 36) para 1.4

54 NEU (ALT 41) para 4

55 Mr John Watkin (ALT 45) para 1.11

61 Headteachers’ Roundtable (ALT 13) para 1.5

62 The Committee has launched inquiries into school and college funding and special educational needs and disabilities.




Published: 25 July 2018