Budget cuts and lack of mental health support blamed for hike in number of Derbyshire students being expelled from school

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An investigation into the rising number of permanent exclusions in Derbyshire has found a lack of mental health support, reduced school budgets and new assessment methods to be to blame.

Derbyshire County Council has published the results of its investigation into the issue, which it says follows a national trend.

In the year 2016/17, Derbyshire had the second highest number of permanently excluded students in the East Midlands, far higher than neighbouring county councils such as Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire.

In the most recent complete figures, from 2016/17, there were 136 permanent exclusions in Derbyshire, up from 111 and 94 in the two previous years, respectively.

The latest figures show Derby bucking the trend with 42 permanent expulsions in 2015/16, down from 50 in the previous 12-month period.

The report, to be heard by the authority’s improvement and scrutiny committee on Wednesday, July 4, found that the assessment method, known as Progress 8, is “definitely a factor in the increase in permanent exclusions”.

It also found that the “rising and unmet mental health and emotional wellbeing needs of young people” and restricted school budgets were to blame.

Progress 8 assesses a pupil’s grades from when they start Key Stage 2, aged seven, to when they sit their GCSEs at Key Stage 4, aged 14 to 16.

The amount of progress they have made in this time is compared to youngsters across England who started with similar grades in up to eight subjects, as listed under Attainment 8, which refers to pupils’ average achievement.

This produces a score above or below zero, stating whether, on average, pupils either outscored, matched or fell under the national standard.

The report says that “an unintended consequence of this measure is that in secondary schools, the less academic students are becoming frustrated and disengaged with the learning process”.

It also says: “The rising and unmet mental health and emotional wellbeing needs of young people coupled with the reduction in school budgets means restricting the number of students that can receive effective pastoral support at school.

“As is the case nationwide, the resources available to provide mental health support to school students in Derbyshire are not sufficient to meet demand.

“Schools reported that parents frequently express frustration that their child is not receiving the support they need.”

Research into 23 schools in the county found that low excluding schools placed more emphasis on working in partnership with parents and had an “inclusive ethos”.

The report said: “A clear message emerging from the school representatives that contributed to the review is that there is a lack of appropriate intervention services to support schools before a student reaches the point of being permanently excluded.”

One of the report’s conclusions was that a proposal to charge schools £6,000 for each excluded pupil – rejected in 2015 – should be reconsidered.

The charge would pay for alternative education for the pupil.

The investigation could not find any clear evidence of schools diverting students into home education or another school to improve their standing in the academic league tables.

This process is illegal and the county council states that due to the underhand nature of this practice, it is hard to track down.

The report states that mention of this practice was made during the investigation.

Department for education guidance on exclusions states: “Good discipline in schools is essential to ensure that all pupils can benefit from the opportunities provided by an education.

“The government supports head teachers using exclusions as a sanction where it is warranted.

“However, permanent exclusions should only be used as a last resort, in response to a serious breach , or persistent breaches, of the school’s behaviour policy; and where allowing the people to remain in the school would seriously harm the education or welfare of the pupil or others in the school.”

Official attainment data for Derbyshire illustrates that the academic performance of permanently excluded students is considerably below the county average.

In 2015/16, only 6.7 per cent of students permanently excluded from Derbyshire schools attained five or more 5* to C grade GCSEs (including English and Maths) –  compared to 54 per cent across pupils in the county.

The report states that “alarmingly”, in 2014/15, none of the 62 pupils that were permanently excluded in Derbyshire obtained English and Maths GCSEs at A* to C grade.

Persistent disruptive behaviour is the most commonly recorded reason for permanent exclusion with 68 incidences in 2016/17.

The report states: “The fact that most students are excluded as a consequence of their behaviour over time indicates that there is a window of opportunity to put in place interventions to turn their behaviour around.”

In 2016/17, the second most common cause of exclusion was physical assault against a pupil, followed by physical assault against an adult, with 17 and 15 cases respectively.

Kathryn Boulton, service director for children’s services, schools and learning at the county council, says that there has been “significant work in Derbyshire to reduce permanent exclusions”.

She said: “The Council’s strategy ‘A Journey to Excellence’ (launched in 2012) sets out a vision to raise educational standards for all children and young people and to close the attainment gap for vulnerable learners.

“The strategy led to notable improvements but in the last two years, however, there has been a rise in permanent exclusions in Derbyshire which has mirrored the national trend.

“The measures being taken to reduce permanent exclusions in Derbyshire are operating in the context of increasing pressures on schools.

“School budgets are reducing, there have been significant curriculum changes, and more rigorous accountability systems have been introduced by Ofsted.

“Progress 8 is an example of one such pressure on schools.”

Dr Isobel Fleming, service director of Countywide Commissioning, says that there are ambitious aims across Derby and Derbyshire to provide mental health support for young people.

She oversees the mental health programmes commissioned by the country’s Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), of which there are four in Derbyshire.

Dr Fleming said: “A target for Derby city and Derbyshire for 2017/18 is that 6,543 individual children and young people will be supported.

“In the first quarter of the year, a total of 3,137 children and young people were supported (nearly 50 per cent of the annual target), suggesting that the programme is well placed to achieve its annual target.”

Eddie Bisknell , Local Democracy Reporting Service