In July 2017, the Children’s Commissioner published Vulnerability in Children – a report that brought together a range of information from government departments, agencies and others to reveal “shocking statistics” about how many children currently live in vulnerable situations; an estimated half a million, or a number equivalent to the entire population of Manchester.
Falling through the Gaps, published in November, builds on the July report to focus exclusively on children excluded from school. The report covers not only those formally excluded from mainstream education but also a much larger number of ‘invisible’ children; those that can’t be found or even seen in official statistics. Home-schooling and ‘off-rolling’ are prioritised as subjects for further, more detailed work.
There are six key findings:
- Tens of thousands of children are educated outside mainstream or special school, many effectively ‘hidden away’ in settings where little is known about how well their needs are met. 10,000 children are dual registered in Alternative Provision (AP) and a further 38,000 single registered. Only 16,000 of these pupils are enrolled in state-funded, DfE registered provision. To date, Ofsted has identified 300 establishments operating illegally as unregistered schools, but the true number of them is unknown. It is impossible to assess the quality of a child’s education, wellbeing or safety in such provision. Over 50,000 children could be home educated but again the true number is unknown and likely to be higher with some figures suggesting the total figure has doubled since 2011-12. The reasons for home education vary. Whilst philosophical reasons remain a major factor, anecdotal evidence suggests that a growing number could reflect pressure being asserted by the child’s former school or cases where the child has additional needs that the parents believe are not being met. Since parents who home educate are not obliged to allow the LA to carry out an inspection, again, little if anything is known about the quality of the education, safeguarding arrangements and the values that are instilled.
- Many of these children are vulnerable and in need of extra help. Children with SEND account for half of all permanent exclusions despite representing only 14% of the school population. Over ¾ of children in PRUs have SEND. 1 in 10 has a SEND statement or EHC (Education, Care and Health) plan. A high proportion of these pupils may be in AP because it is easier to place them there, rather than because that is the setting which provides the best support for their needs.
- Official exclusions are rising, but many children are also being excluded by the back door through ‘hidden’ or unofficial exclusions. The number of children who leave mainstream schools for other types of provision is significantly higher than the number permanently excluded (which has risen by 44% since 2012/13). Only 1 in 5 children in AP has previously been permanently excluded. Pupils commonly undergo a managed move to an AP and then complete their education there. These pupils are effectively permanently excluded without having gone through the legal process that is designed to protect their rights.
- In some cases, children could be moved out of mainstream schools for reasons that are more in the school’s interests than the child’s. Most of the children who move into AP do so in Year 10 or 11, and only 1% go on to achieve 5+ A*-C including English and Maths (2015-16). Over a third of pupils who were in AP at the end of KS4 in 2016/17 were recorded NEET, compared with 1 in 20 mainstream pupils. Nine out of ten mainstream schools are benefitting from these pupils leaving, in the sense that their performance data is improved. Analysis by school type has shown that this effect is strongest for sponsor academies.
- Some children, including highly vulnerable ones, are not in education at all. Between 10,000 and 15,000 children are estimated to miss education at one point in time.
- In many cases, existing statistics ae unable to tell the full story. There are no official figures on the extent of unofficial and illegal exclusions, for example, being sent home to ‘cool off’. Only surveys, which could severely underestimate the scale of the issue.
The report concludes with a reminder that missing out on a good education is bad for a child’s development and life chances. We know that for many children, exclusion is one step along a journey that ends with adult social exclusion and troubled lives. The long term financial costs of allowing children to get to the point of exclusion as well as the social costs are huge. England’s exclusion epidemic needs to find a cure, and quickly.