Council to get to grips with worrying rise in exclusions from Northumberland schools

Northumberland County Council's director of education, Dean Jackson.
Northumberland County Council's director of education, Dean Jackson.

Pupils were permanently kicked out of Northumberland schools at an average rate of one a day during the first half-term of this academic year.

The steep rise in the numbers of permanent and fixed-term exclusions from the county’s schools and academies is causing concern at Northumberland County Council.

Over the last three years, permanent exclusions have increased by 203 per cent and fixed-term exclusions by 209 per cent, and this upward trend has continued from September with this academic year on course to hit 190 permanent exclusions.

Just 41 pupils were permanently removed in 2015-16 which rose to 75 in 2016-17 before jumping to 115 last year, at a cost to the council of almost £1.5million.

However, the cost is not the only concern; a report to the council’s family and children’s services committee last Thursday (November 8) explained that the impact ‘is long-lasting for a child, having permanent and negative implications on their education as well as on social outcomes and physical and mental health’.

Last year, 70 per cent of permanent exclusions were from schools rated by Ofsted as requires improvement or inadequate. The report notes that ‘these schools are under significant pressures, but the link between exclusion and school improvement was not borne out by the 2018 Key Stage 4 GCSE data’.

In terms of fixed-term exclusions, there were 1,280 in 2015-16, 1,967 in 2016-17 and then 4,514 in 2017-18 – equivalent to 13,500 pupil days.

Alarmingly, more than half (2,409) of last year’s fixed exclusions were at one school – Blyth Academy.

Dean Jackson, the council’s director of education, reported that he had spoken to the new headteacher at Blyth and been assured that the same thing wouldn’t happen again this year.

“This is one of absolute priorities now,” he told councillors. “We need to try to find our own solutions to this. Our headteachers are keen to work with us on this.

“If our secondary schools had more money, they could do more to help those very troubled children.”

The rises in Northumberland mirror a national trend, as does the fact that exclusion rates are disproportionately high for disadvantaged pupils and for those with SEND (special educational needs or disabilities), but ‘the geography of the county makes this a particularly worrying issue’.

The committee agreed to set up a task and finish group ‘to investigate the causes of the substantial increases and to develop recommendations on working with partners, targeting resources and developing strategies to significantly improve the current situation’.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service