Exclusion Speech to Full Council by Cllr Sarah Dodds

Preparing this speech has made me ponder about the meaning of “exclusion.” We can all probably think of times we have felt the emotional impact of being excluded from something, even if the reality wasn’t quite the case. We can all empathise with those feelings of insecurity, of isolation, of failure, of a lack of belonging. We can all empathise with that sense of rejection, even if it is a fear more than a reality.

Turning to the dictionary I thought more deeply about the connotations of that word. The definition recorded of excluded is “to shut or keep out; prevent the entrance of” and “to shut out from consideration, privilege.”

|If schools were made to write home to parents and say “today we have shut your child out permanently from our school,” and were unable to use the institutionalised and clinical phrase “permanent exclusion,” I wonder if that alone would change behaviour.

Nationally, according to the 2017 report by the IPPR “Making the Difference: Breaking the link between school exclusion and social exclusion” that act of shutting out, happens to 35 children nationally every single school day

In 2016/7 in Lincolnshire it happened 180 times.

Now the fact that those figures are coming down in Lincolnshire while nationally they are going up is great, and I applaud the vision within Children’s Services that has brought that about. BUT 180 times is 180 times too many. Let’s call this what it is – that is 180 failures.

I want to talk to you briefly about a young Lincolnshire boy who I know – I will call him Jacob but that’s not his name. Jacob moved to secondary school in September 2017, with a diagnosis of autism and a transition plan in place. However, due to school staffing and management changes, that transition plan never happened. He was not getting what was agreed would give him the best chance to make that enormous transition. All the preparation from his mum and his primary school to get him ready fell by the wayside.

Despite the best efforts of the school inclusion team here, he received a permanent exclusion within his first half term. His behaviour was seen to be too much of a “problem”. The whole process took a massive emotional toll on the entire family, and tragically on Jacob himself. I was in daily contact with mum throughout this process at times. Jacob now has an EHCP plan in place and is now in a new school. But he still had to go through that process or being “shut out.” Of feeling he was not worth as much as anyone else. But Jacob’s behaviour was the manifestation of unmet needs, not the problem itself.

Just think again of those feelings I discussed. Think what it means to be an 11 year old autistic boy being told you are too much of a problem, not wanted. I’m not sure we all want to dwell of those feelings too much if it were our children.

In the Making the Difference Report, the IPPR highlight that most permanent exclusions are for persistent bad behaviour. However they also point out that excluded children have a complex range of vulnerability. They are

 

  • 4x more likely to be in Care,
  • 7x more likely to have SEN
  • 10x more likely to have mental health issues

SO the evidence is clear on this – we must stop talking about these children as having problematic behaviour, but see them as having vulnerabilities.

It is the key responsibility of school leaders to educate ALL children. Not just the ones who look good in Progress 8 and Ebacc buckets. Despite an awareness of the need to look at the accountability framework regarding exclusion, successive green papers have failed to lead to significant policy change whereby schools would remain accountable for the future success of the pupil’s they expel. Thus there is no incentive for schools NOT to exclude and toxic and mounting pressures on resources and attainment which mean it becomes easier for us to see the problems children bring rather than the vulnerabilities they need support with.

Making the Difference states “There are fewer preventative services whose work supports children with complex needs. Meanwhile there are increasing accountability and financial pressures on schools, which heighten the risk of exclusion for pupils, whose complex needs, require extra resources to assure their achievement.”

There is a huge financial cost to getting this wrong, with each excluded child estimated in the report to cost £370,000 in additional education, benefits, healthcare and criminal justice costs across their lifetime.

On a personal level, each excluded child is likely to suffer from long-term mental health concerns, struggle to gain qualifications, be long term unemployed and be repeatedly involved in crime.

Much of what we do in Lincolnshire is already so good, and those of us who sit on CYPS will testify of the political and moral commitment to this challenge from officers and counsellors alike. The Ladder of Intervention, BOSS and an improving range of commissioning for alternative provision, as well as a crucial level of challenge to schools and academies is all warmly welcomed.

However, what is at stake is so important that it cannot JUST be the remit of those of us who sit in Children’s. Bringing this motion to full council today is an opportunity for every one of us to make a statement to recognise the good we are already doing. But it also allows us to make a clear statement to national government and local Lincolnshire education leaders that we demand further improvement.

I believe that statement on an educational policy level is that we demand to see a more accountable framework to protect our children from the risk of exclusion.

But on a moral and relational level, in terms of what we value as a council, it’s our chance to welcome in, not shut out. It’s our chance to promote children’s ambitions and dreams; not prevent their entrance to life; and to afford to the same privilege to all of them that we would claim for our own.

Cllr Sarah Dodds