Image default
A Broken System

What is wrong with the mainstream? Select Committee report into exclusions

Education Select Committee report. Forgotten children: alternative provision and the scandal of ever increasing exclusions

“Going into alternative provision was the best outcome for some children we spoke to, but in order to access it children have to be branded a failure or excluded in the first place, rather than it being a positive choice.”

The Education Select Committee report is an in-depth review into what is going wrong in mainstream schools and how this impacts on the most vulnerable within the school system. Press coverage has particularly focused on criticism of ‘zero tolerance’ behaviour policies popular in academies but the report goes much further than this. It highlights how the narrowing curriculum with a focus on only core subjects, the ongoing increase in mental health issues amongst young people, budget cuts and the way in which the Department of Education measures school success all come together to create a difficult environment.
The report considers children who are classed as electively home educated to be outside of the remit of their report but noted that many children were being wrongly encouraged to be pulled out of school (off-rolling).


“Off-rolling— the process by which pupils are removed from the school’s register by moving them to alternative provision, to home education or other schools—was raised by many witnesses, and we were told that the accountability system and Progress 8 was a major factor.”

“We do not think that Ofsted should take sole responsibility for tackling off-rolling. Off-rolling is in part driven by school policies created by the Department for Education. The Department cannot wash its hands of the issue, just as schools cannot wash their hands of their pupils.”

Disadvantaged children more likely to be excluded

“There appears to be a lack of moral accountability on the part of many schools and no incentive to, or deterrent to not, retain pupils who could be classed as difficult or challenging.”

“According to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), some groups of children are more likely to be educated in alternative provision, or excluded, than other children. Children in care, children in need, children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and children in poverty are all more likely to be excluded than their peers. Pupils with SEN support are almost seven times more likely to be permanently excluded than pupils with no SEN. Boys are more likely to be permanently excluded than girls; for every girl permanently excluded last year, over three boys were permanently excluded. Some ethnicities are disproportionately represented in alternative provision, including Black Caribbean, Irish traveller heritage and Gypsy Roma heritage pupils.”

“We heard significant evidence about the increasing numbers of children with SEND being excluded. In 2015/16, there were 2,990 permanent exclusions and 148,665 fixed term exclusions of pupils with special educational needs. Many of these children are arriving in the AP sector with unidentified and unmet needs. In line with what we heard about funding challenges and a lack of expertise, we heard worrying evidence that some schools may be deliberately failing to identify a child as having SEND. The National Education Union told us that excluding pupils can save schools thousands of pounds, while the Association of Youth Offending Team Managers suggested that schools could be deliberately not identifying pupils as having SEND, as it is more difficult to permanently exclude a pupil with SEND.”

Narrow curriculum

“We were told that a narrow curriculum can affect the engagement of some pupils with their education and Progress 8 in particular can narrow the curriculum for some pupils. The National Education Union told us that SATs preparation can negatively impact on children with SEND and their access to a broad and balanced curriculum as their time is taken up focusing on SATs preparation, leaving little room for other lessons.”

“If pupils are experiencing a narrow curriculum, they are missing out on the wider subjects and opportunities that enable them to develop social and economic capital, which is vital for their future education and adult life.”

Zero tolerance and isolation

“While it would be reasonable of schools to take a zero-tolerance approach to drugs or weapons, a school culture which is intolerant of minor infractions of school policies on haircuts or uniform will create an environment where pupils are punished needlessly where there should be flexibility and a degree of discretion.”

“Many of the young people we spoke to talked about being put in isolation in mainstream school for large parts of academic years. Some of the pupils were put in isolation for behavioural reasons, while others were removed from the classroom for other reasons, including because they were victims of bullying. The young people told us about the impact that isolation had on them. One young person who was isolated because they had been bullied told us that “With that kind of support, I gave up with the school system—I chose not to go.” Another described their experience of learning: “There were a lot of different people in the isolation room that I was put in, but it was a box, essentially. [ … ] They would give you a textbook to copy from. There would be no real learning.” We were also told by a young person with experience of alternative provision about their experience of isolation in mainstream school: At first, I felt like I had been naughty and was in trouble, but I obviously couldn’t work out what I’d done. They changed my time for eating my dinner. I would go and eat my dinner before everyone else even started theirs. I was isolated not just from my lessons but from everyone completely. It makes you feel bad. You feel like you’re not going to have friends. Even though I was in a very bad situation at the time, I was still never allowed that freedom.”

Adversarial and difficult system for parents and children to navigate

“Dr Gazeley, Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Sussex told us: Some parents are very much better placed to exert their rights than others, and one of the issues is that many of the children who get tied up in all these processes have parents who do not have the knowledge, the understanding, the trust or the experience to exert their rights, and they do not have access to advocacy either. They are in a very dependent position o[f] trust for professionals, some of whom do a very good job and some of whom we know are not doing the right things. It is really important to recognise that some parents can leverage the system and some cannot, and we need to think about how we help them.”

“The exclusions process is weighted in favour of schools and often leaves parents and pupils navigating an adversarial system that should be supporting them.”

“Some pupils need a different environment to learn in. Currently parents and pupils are not sufficiently involved and the process can often take too long. Where schools recognise that alternative provision is the most suitable option for a pupil, schools should feel able to find the right provision for that pupil. Parents and pupils have a tremendous stake in their education and schools and local authorities need to include them more in decisions.”

“Parents and children were not given any choice about what kind of alternative provision they would go to. “

“Against my wishes, they put my son in an EBD [emotional and behavioural difficulties] school, which is about the worst provision you can put an autistic child in, quite literally. It was catastrophic for him. I objected about as strongly as I could to that, and they put him in there anyway.”
“In the mainstream school there was absolutely nothing. Even when we asked for it—demanded it—we never received it. It was a battle. It was a war. That is what it felt like: a war against a parent. The education system should be a good experience for a parent as well as a child, but it never was. “ Parent of a pupil with experience of alternative provision.

Much to be valued in alternate provision

“Many have described AP as specialist provision, offering children a more tailored, more personal education that is more suited to their needs.”

“A good PRU delivers a lot of love and a little magic into the lives of those who have very frequently, and sadly, experienced too little of either.” Peterborough Pupil Referral Service

“We have heard from many outstanding providers, teachers, headteachers and local authorities who offer the very best of provision to their pupils. They talk about providing supportive, flexible environments that meet individual needs and allow pupils to flourish. No provision that we have heard from or visited is the same, but no pupil is the same. There is no template for good AP, but the challenge that we set is providing consistently good AP to all pupils no matter where they are living.”

A PRU student “They understand that maybe somebody is having a giddy day or a depressed day, or they’re very tired, or a bit anxious, and then they will work around that. So it’s easier for you to work when you know that they know what you’re going through, and it’s understanding, and then you can have a relationship with them. When I was at mainstream, I was a bit scared of the teachers, but at [alternative provision] I’m friends with quite a few of them and they’re all really nice people—the nicest people I’ve ever met.”

Lack of oversight and provision

“There is an inexplicable lack of central accountability and direction. No one appears to be aware of all the provision that is available, which impacts on both schools, local authorities and parents. Unless all providers are required to notify the local authority of their presence, not all schools or LAs will be able to make informed decisions about placements.”

“We heard that there can be little oversight of pupils in alternative provision, with The Pendlebury Centre PRU suggesting that there can be an “out of sight, out of mind mentality by some.” The Engage Trust suggested that there is too little scrutiny of the school’s actions in placing children into alternative provision, and even when pupils are sent to registered provision like AP Academies, there is little or no oversight of the decisions made by schools.”

“Ofsted also found that just less than a third of the schools they looked at systematically evaluated the quality of teaching and learning in the alternative provision they were commissioning, and the majority of staff working at the alternative providers in their sample had not attended any formal child protection training.”

Forgotten children: alternative provision and the scandal of ever increasing exclusions – The Education Select Committee (18 July 2018)

Related posts

Pupil brings legal action against school’s isolation policy (The Guardian)


Restricted toilet access – how is this okay?


Impacts of isolation

Rose Arnold

The Guardian: the crisis for children with special needs


Ellie Chick’s results day Twitter video #ForgottenThird


‘The Rise of the Meritocracy’ was intended as a warning