New data reveals risk of schools 'deliberately excluding' children to improve exam results
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The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) has found that school performance pressures are ‘cultivating a culture which perversely incentivises the removal of lower-performing pupils’.
According to the organisation, this leads to a ‘huge annual spike’ of Year 11 admissions to Pupil Referral Units shortly before January.
If pupils are removed from school in this period, they will not compromise its overall performance data, as it is before the date from which their results would still be attributed to the school, the organisation said.
The CSJ’s twin reports, ‘Suspending Reality’, highlight how pupils who experience suspension or exclusion are disproportionately from disadvantaged backgrounds, as pupils eligible for free school meals are now five times more likely to face permanent exclusion.
Disadvantaged pupils often face additional barriers to their education, including lack of access to food, proper clothing and books, which creates huge challenges to their learning.
The study shows just one per cent of excluded children go on to achieve five good GCSEs including English and Maths.
The CSJ has also raised concerns about the current accountability system which appears to unintentionally disincentivise an inclusive culture across the education system.
A spokesperson for the CSJ said: “In recent years, educators and academics have reportedly raised growing concerns over school performance pressures which perversely reward the removal of lower-performing pupils.
"Maintaining a sharp focus on academic performance is crucial but should not come at the expense of the most vulnerable pupil groups.
"As part of its inspection process, Ofsted should be able to identify schools looking to sustain their academic levels by excluding students.”
The CSJ’s research reveals record levels of annual suspensions with over half a million recorded in 2021/2022, while permanent exclusions are also on the rise, with a total of 6,495 recorded. Its analysis reveals that on average, rates of exclusion are highest in secondary schools that are part of multi-academy trusts (MATs), which comprise some 80 per cent of secondary schools.
Andy Cook, chief executive of the CSJ, added: “Our research supports what many parents who work with our front-line charities have been saying for years, namely the practice of schools dumping kids in Year 11 to sustain their performance data.”
“Suspensions and exclusions have an important role to play, but all the evidence tells us that going to school is key to a brighter future for our kids. A system which effectively rewards schools for exiting academically underperforming students – often those who need school the most - is not acceptable.”
The spokesperson added: “[We have] made several recommendations for meaningful reform:
“Inclusion should be added as a fifth key judgement in Ofsted inspections. Inclusion should carry significant weighting in Ofsted School inspection guidance and this weighting should be reflected in inspections.
“The Department for Education should introduce a national inclusion framework for schools and academy trusts. The framework should include a clear definition of inclusion, as well as guidance for school and MAT leaders on how to support pupils to overcome any additional vulnerabilities that may prevent them from engaging in education in mainstream classrooms.
“Launch a consultation on proposals to replace one-word judgements with a report card. The Department for Education should launch a consultation on how to reform the school accountability framework, to ensure that it considers all aspects of the school.
“School League Tables should be reweighted to take all pupils into account, proportionate to the amount of time that they spend enrolled at the school.
“The Department for Education should create a National Parental Participation Strategy which should create a new duty for schools and MATs to focus on parental participation and publish parental participation plans.”