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Focusing on Exclusions - and why they matter

As we watched the schools go back and the touching pictures of children wearing face masks, holding out their arms to hug their friends on their first day, I’ve been looking into some of the current evidence into exclusions. Schools up and down the country have taken part in some valuable research and I wanted to find out, which children have a greater chance of becoming excluded once they’re back in school?

The evidence shows that boys are at greater risk of formal exclusion though girls account for a higher number of informal exclusions, seen through ‘invisible’ early exits and school moves. Pupils living in high levels of deprivation in their area or at home are another at risk group. Certain schools in deprived areas are under disproportionate pressure due to the level of need in their school. Their pupils are likely to need additional support and the data for this shows the level of need accounts for over 50% of interschool variation.

Contact with social care, persistent absenteeism and a build-up of multiple fixed term exclusions are all ‘flags’ as to what might follow next. For this cohort, exclusions have been shown not to work to improve attendance or behaviour. Supporting pupils after exclusion (rather than earlier on) costs the local authorities and schools more in the long run. Problems such as the national SEN budget are too often unavailable, as they become committed to cover gaps in the school budget, making it difficult for schools to access additional support.

Transition to Secondary School

When Cheshire West and Chester Council observed a significant rise in their exclusion rate during 2018/19, they noted there was a marked increase shortly after the pupils transitioned to secondary school and in the lead up to sitting their GCSEs. They saw that it was important to explore what worked to improve attendance and behaviour for pupils, particularly those with escalating needs, some of which were overlapping.

There are those of us with a lived experience of this problem. I saw myself reflected back in some of the data. It seems very likely that I was one of those who became ‘off-rolled’. We have a Schools Co-ordinator working on our team who assures me that here in Gloucestershire there’s an accountability mechanism firmly in place. The Local Authority would be advised about any young person missing from the register, as they form part of Children Missing Education Guidance and are entered onto the Elective Home Education roll. I attended six schools, most of them in London, with short spells in care. Despite enjoying academia there appeared to be no one mapping my journey or noticing a growing set of needs. Fast forward a few years and I volunteered as a Progression Mentor for a charity which helped young people leaving school who were unsure as to their next step into the job market. What if you’ve fallen too far behind with your education? What effect does exclusion have on your future prospects?

Apart from the obvious serious safeguarding concerns about children missing from school, the Coram Report found in their report, ‘Unfair Results’ (2019) that both parents and pupils said it had made a significant impact on them. Pupils suffered a loss of confidence and self-esteem and felt that their mental health had been affected. There was a knock-on affect for the parents too. They reported stress which took its toll on their work and their relationship with other members of the family.

Life chances

In the Timpson review (2019) Edward Timpson, was commissioned to review school exclusion by the Secretary of State for Education. He said that, ‘while exclusion is an important component of effective behaviour management in schools, outcomes of excluded children are often poor’. Figures show that only 4% of excluded pupils go on to get the qualifications they need to access the workforce effectively. For pupils with SEND the figure is even lower.

When the Coram Report invited in the experience of parents, one parent spoke about how a Looked After Child, a 15 year old boy, had been moved around between school placements – “with no package of provision, without any support; he was set up to fail”.

Case Study                           

This is not what any of us wants for our children. But an effective school culture can play an important part in building harmonious relationships. When there is a whole school approach we’ve seen how this can positively impact behaviour. In one of the schools we’ve worked with there was a group of Year 6 pupils who were regularly having arguments about playing football. They were passionate about their matches and this tended to spill over into arguments which impacted on the rest of the class - including their teacher, often cutting into lesson time.

So the teacher introduced a daily circle time, 'checking in' with the class at the start of each morning and after lunch. She used her training in Restorative Practice to form a problem solving circle and the children came up with their own solutions. One was to wear coloured bibs which helped with team creation and the other was to pull names out of a pot to select who would be on each team. The children felt that this was fair and were happy with their choices. It was a clear example of fair process, led by the pupils themselves.

The impact

Following on, the situation greatly improved. Learning time was regained and the teacher could focus on teaching. The children felt part of the process and were keen to follow the agreed rules, which led to fewer arguments. They were also happier and the confidence they gained in the process could be applied in other areas.

Relationships

We know that Restorative Practice can help students build the skills they need to deal with conflict and issues which they meet everyday, at home and at school. Had these two boys not been helped successfully it’s likely they were on route to their first exclusion.

Despite my own difficulties growing up, I managed to grow resilience. Had I not, I may not have faired so well with life’s slings and arrows. After I left school I gradually learnt how to reinvent myself, especially in the work place. What started off as studying for an acting diploma after I left school soon became part of how I moved between different roles. At one time I went straight from working as a Countryside Ranger to working for a leading set of barristers in the City. Writer and historian, Yuval Noah Harari, spoke of a mental agility that’s pivotal for our children to learn if they are going to be seen as relevant in today’s job market.

Can Restorative Practice teach us resilience? Yes it can and we’ll be looking at this in my next blog.

Lockdown

Joanna Hopkins, Wales ACE Support Hub Director, says that the children growing up in households where there are Adverse Childhood Experiences may have seen these intensify during the Covid-19 Lockdown: ‘taken away from supportive structures such as schools, friends and confined with adults trying to manage their own coping strategies… relationships are coming under strain.’

The time to lend our support, to pupils and their social community – is now.

Published by Melanie Benn

After leaving school, Melanie went on to work for the MRC Cognitive Development Unit as their Laboratory Assistant in the Baby Lab. There she enlisted the help of volunteers to take part in studies into various aspects of infant and child development. She worked for a number of Research Scientists including Annette Karmiloff-Smith, author and scientific adviser to the TV series, ‘Baby it’s You.’ When she came to work for Molly MacLeod and the Restorative Practice team in Gloucestershire last year she was excited to see what the team were putting together. She helps to engage and consult with stakeholders across the locality partnership, working with those looking to secure better outcomes for children, families and communities. She provides day to day administration for the team’s ongoing training programme, liaising with schools, compiling feedback and gathering data for analysis and research.

 

RESTORE – Recognition. Empathy. Safety. Trauma. Opportunity. Relationships. Engagement.

There is widespread RECOGNITION that this pandemic has changed us all and how we view ourselves and our lives. However, everyone’s experience and attitude towards Covid-19 and the subsequent Lockdown has been different and continues to change as we become ever used to our ‘new normal’. The next phase is for us to support each other through the complex stages of recovery towards restoring our health and happiness. 

The end of March 2020 was an unsettling time; I was very unwell with a team at work to support (albeit virtually) and a family suddenly at home all day. Then, my son became ill and ended up in hospital with pneumonia. Almost immediately I had to let go of any semblance of control, at work, at home and with regards to my son’s health. I felt threatened and angry and scared. I also felt incredibly supported by everyone around me. Whether it was a distant relative, a neighbour or work colleague, they all reached out to us with genuine compassion and care; the EMPATHYwe were shown was quite overwhelming. I felt able to temporarily let go of my responsibilities and concentrate on what was important – getting my son well and back home. As I started to come out of the fog, I began to hear stories from others. For some this has been a truly horrendous experience and for others the best thing that’s ever happened to them. I have friends who are being extremely vigilant, insisting on everything being washed at regular intervals throughout the day despite no-one leaving the house, ever. Others are more lackadaisical, casually bumping into people they know in the street, the supermarket, anywhere else they feel like taking a wander. No handwashing for them. These are both normal responses to an abnormal situation and we must be mindful that our moral compass is our own and not everyone else’s. I can teach my children what I mean by ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’ but I can’t be responsible for your interpretation. Compassion remains crucial in helping me understand why people are behaving the way they are. 

Above all, for me it comes down to SAFETY and the importance of my children’s health, my health and that of my community, including my elderly neighbours and my parents. Not only has our physical health been damaged, but equally important has been the emotional harm caused. How do we support those for whom lockdown has been a sustained period of TRAUMA, sometimes unconsciously experienced, and how do we support our children to recognise this behaviour as trauma and not simply as bad behaviour? How can we continue to nurture ourselves and each other to ensure we are able to re-engage in our learning and our work? Self-care has been difficult and less consistent for me and I have had to remind myself often, to check my own emotional state and to reflect on how I am feeling. 

I’ve also thought a lot about what’s important to me and how I live my life.  It’s been a real OPPORTUNITY to rethink my working day, to realise when I’m most productive or creative, when it’s best to concentrate on strategic visioning and when I should just check-in with my children and take time out to be mummy. I’ve had to realise I can’t do it all, all of the time and that actually it’s just as useful to spend time being reflective as it is to be active. It’s been a relief to be able to say I’m not always okay and not to be judged for it. 

It’s wonderful to see my creativity and passion for life re-emerge, but most of all it has been amazing to experience the true power of RELATIONSHIPS; to feel connected to my family, my friends and my community in a way I never have before. Some relationships are new but many were already established and have just had the chance to blossom over the last few months. I am also mindful that relationships take time, we need to consciously reconnect every day, relationships are fragile and need nurturing. 

However much some of us may be embracing this new situation, it’s still at odds with our usual routine of school and work and is something we have little control over. It’s this need to feel back in control that I’m now left with. When Lockdown is over, I need my voice and my experience to be heard; to ensure I have some level of ENGAGEMENT in what the brave new world might look, sound and feel like for me. Ultimately, I want to take forward with me what I have learnt about myself and my life and feel a sense of being able to own my ‘new normal’. 

Published by Molly Macleod

After completing her teaching qualification in 1996, Molly decided to pursue a career working alongside disadvantaged and vulnerable young people. Knowing school to be a protective factor for most pupils, she was keen to better understand why some were so disengaged from Education. Following a number of years as a youth worker in Edinburgh, specialising in sexual health and work with young parents, Molly moved to Gloucestershire and joined the County Council in 2008, becoming manager of the Youth Crime Prevention Team. Her subsequent work as a Locality manager for Early Help led her to recognise the importance of whole family working in order to affect sustained changes for young people. She went on to set up Gloucestershire’s Families First programme, working with the most complex and deprived families in the county. Molly is passionate about equitability, inclusion and enabling young people to have a voice. She was introduced to the emerging field of Restorative Practice in 2016 and quickly gained an affinity with its ethos and principles. Since then she has been gathering examples of best practice from across the country and has been working alongside a number of Primary, Secondary and Special schools within Gloucestershire to implement Restorative Approaches. Over the last few years it has become apparent to Molly that the success of a Restorative Approach relies on understanding the impact Trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) have on mental wellbeing and the ability to fully engage in the process. As a result, Molly is currently liaising with schools and health professionals to develop a Trauma Informed Relational Practice offer. She is also working with Early Help and Inclusion services to implement a Team around the School model for those schools embedding Restorative Practice, to further support their inclusion offer and re-engage young people in Education. Molly continues to be committed in guiding schools across Gloucestershire to effectively implement Restorative Practice, as well as supporting professionals working with Schools, to understand and model a Restorative Approach. In addition to this she is collaborating with the University of Gloucestershire to embed Restorative Approaches within Initial Teacher Training across the county.

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