Keywords: funding, time, relationships, change in policy
Last weekend I attended the Northern #IncludeEd conference run by @TheDifferenceEd. My motivation was simply to try and get some answers on what happens to our young people when they seem to ‘disappear’ from registers – something I have found really sad, especially when as a teacher you have spent a good deal of time with them and really care what happens. I feel like I know very little about alternative provision.
In the last year I have ‘lost’ learners due to becoming ‘home schooled’, may have returned to their home country and alternative provision being provided due to mental health. This doesn’t include those who leave through exclusions, managed moves and illness. Often the mechanism for teachers finding out about these disappearances are a re-coding of registers, or names simply disappearing. With an overloaded pastoral team the answers you receive often lack detail, and sometimes are as brutal as ‘it’s not the schools remit to monitor that young person any more’. When I found out that my LEA has the fourth poorest quality of AP provision in the country (Centre of Social Justice) it made me even more sad. It feels like what alternative provision actually is, is somewhat of a mystery to many teachers and even senior leaders.
The conference was really interesting. I was met with statistics, opinions and strategies from a passionate group of people for whom inclusion in education is very much a vocation. I learned a great deal but to be honest I didn’t get many answers that got near the heart of my questions, and if anything it just left me with more. I have broken the rest of this blog into two parts – my overall reflections and a summary of interesting information that I took from sessions on mainstream schools which have reduced exclusion numbers to zero.
I should add these are my interpretations of what was said and may not reflect the context or exact phrasing (I’ve seen some people get burned on twitter through being quoted out of context!). Where statistics are quoted I have referenced who provided them.
- Class sizes in alternative provision are much smaller (even 1:2) – surely this is not financially viable for mainstream schools currently? It is also linked directly to the same young people needing additional support through counselling and again this has funding implications. Indeed this was something that was touched on by Cath Murray (CathMurray_) from the Centre of Social Justice – we need to change policy, not just create more reports, and there needs to be more investment in mainstream education to make it more inclusive.
- Interesting question raised about whether certain teachers are just ‘better’ at working with our more challenging pupils, is it personality or learnt? This is something that I have been reflecting on when thinking about the next career move. We all know those teachers who just seem to get difficult pupils on board and engaged, and their strategies would simply not work for everyone – I am rubbish at sharp witted responses!
- Where do those missing pupils go? No-one really knows! Philip Nye (@philipnye) from Education Data Lab estimated that currently there are approx. 2500 pupils in unregistered alternative provision but the DfE cannot provided numbers on this. The Education Policy Institute states that there were 24000 Year 11 pupils who had an unexplained exit in 2017. 4 in 10 had not returned to state education by the end of Year 11 and of those in AP only 1 in 10 returned to state education. Of those that moved to another school 1 in 4 moved to an establishment with a lower Ofsted rating.
Then there is the matter of elective home schooling which doesn’t seem to be nationally quality assured. This brings me back to my concerns about the 2 girls in my form who had chronically poor attendance then left school to be ‘home schooled’. Parents couldn’t get them to attend school in the first place and where it was needed the young person was not able to access vital pastoral support. How is their education expected to improve by allowing them to be withdrawn all together? Was this an easy option?
- I really liked the concept that for a school to be inclusive this is not just pupils but staff too, and this should be reflected in the school’s values. To ensure this, positive relationships need to be built between all people (young and adult) in the institution.
- Current teaching demands are as inclusive as they have ever been in education (Baroness Morris). Over the last few decades there has always been a focal group of pupils – men, women, top 25% grammar schools getting into university and pursuing professions, but it has only been in recent years that we have been expected to meet the needs of all Indeed as a teacher I am asked to provide my interventions strategies for pupils who fit into these categories – higher ability, SEND, pupil premium, ECHP, LAC and EAL; this was over 75% of the pupils I teach! As a middle leader I spend time analysing data on these groups and looking at how we support them in department. The impact of having to demonstrate provision and provide data takes a huge amount of time that could be spent on resourcing lessons and supporting these pupils.
Finally here is summary of information I gleaned from attending sessions run by leaders of schools who are being effective reducing and eliminating exclusions.
I had the privilege of hearing both Lucie Lakin (@lucielakin) and Tom Shaw talk openly about how they changed the culture of their schools to become 100% inclusive and eliminate exclusions, with a real focus on belonging. Both were clearly highly passionate and had created an innovative system that is really working in their environment. I felt they talked a lot of sense with their mantra ‘equity not equality’ regarding their behaviour policy – know your children and punish accordingly. Ensure staff are completely on board with the school’s ethos of zero exclusions, regardless of how serious the incident. The school has created a system for restorative justice system (build, maintain, repair) to reintegrate any pupil who commits are serious infraction back into lessons and they also offer therapeutic work.
There was a lot more in the sessions regarding specific strategies to achieve this, such as all staff involvement in coaching groups, and their focus on the difference between management vs development following a behavioural issue. They also made it very clear that pupil outcomes were more important than school outcomes (e.g. A8) and it is not about school accreditation. That this was a sacrifice the senior leadership had bought into to put the pupils at the heart of the school and have a positive impact on the local community.
My questions following it though were predominantly about funding and time. To implement an effective pastoral response to poor behaviour and to support requires a good deal of time and staff resources. Both of these require money, something that many schools simply do not have unless they make sacrifices in other areas. Also to ask staff to buy in to a culture where a pupil assault would end up with them facing them in lessons in the future is not a risk many teachers would be prepared to accept, and it would not be possible for all schools to staff their schools where there are already shortages in some subjects. It also requires innovative and passionate senior leaders who staff want to work for, and there are so many different styles of leadership this simply isn’t possible. That said I felt very inspired hearing both Lucie and Tom speak and I can see how they have been so effective in turning round the schools they work with.
So to conclude, it feels like this is an area with a lot of uncertainty. It made me feel reassured that there are a large group of adults out there who work in education and research who are passionately, pursuing answers, but there is a lot of work to be done to change policy at a governmental level to get the impact that this issue really needs. I look forward to educating myself in the coming months, and anyone who can recommend reading or direct me to relevant research it would be greatly appreciated.