School exclusions in Northumberland falling after worrying spike

Dean Jackson, Northumberland County Councils director of education.
Dean Jackson, Northumberland County Councils director of education.

The number of permanent exclusions from Northumberland schools has been brought under control, following a peak at the start of the academic year.

In November, we reported that pupils were permanently kicked out of county schools at an average rate of one a day during the first half-term of 2018-19.

This was just the pinnacle of a steep rise, which had seen permanent exclusions increase by 203 per cent and fixed-term exclusions by 209 per cent over the last three years.

The trend was continuing at that point, with 2018-19 on course to hit 190 permanent exclusions, however, it now appears that there will actually be a drop this year.

A performance report, presented to last Thursday’s (March 7) meeting of Northumberland County Council’s family and children’s services committee, revealed the improvement.

The data shows that by the end of January 2018, there had been 76 permanent exclusions from secondary schools that academic year, but at the same point this year, there have only been 45.

Likewise, there had been seven permanent removals from primary schools by January last year, but the January 2019 figure was two, although the report notes that ‘it would be the hope that no primary schoolchildren would be permanently excluded’.

Cath McEvoy-Carr, the authority’s director of children’s services, said this could be attributed both to the work of the council to encourage schools to think of alternatives and also the national focus on the issue from the likes of Ofsted.

Dean Jackson, the council’s director of education, added that two intervention workers, who had been employed since September, had probably managed to keep a dozen youngsters in school between them.

“We had continued the way we were until October half-term, but we have seen a significant drop-off since then,” he said. “I’m hoping we will see a significant improvement by the end of this year.”

At the November meeting, the committee had agreed to set up a task and finish group to look at the issue of exclusions and acting chairman, Coun Mark Swinburn, reported that their discussions so far had been wide-ranging with people from outside the area being brought in to share strategies.

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 set out how 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’.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service