A recent report looking at the illegal exclusion of disabled pupils paints a bleak picture. But campaigners say that it could be the tip of the iceberg.
More than 50 per cent of the families with a disabled child who participated in Contact a Family’s Falling Through The Net report said that they had been asked to collect their child before the end of the school day because of a lack of support staff.
The report also found that more than 50 per cent of families had been told that a school activity or trip was unsuitable for their disabled child.
Unlike formal exclusions, schools do not have to report these sorts of exclusions to the local authority. It is not subject to review or external monitoring and can drag on indefinitely.
The report put the weekly level of illegal exclusions at almost 25 per cent and the daily figure at 15 per cent.
Srabani Sen, Chief Executive of Contact a Family, said that the findings undermined the government’s commitment set out in the Children and Families Bill for disabled children to achieve their full potential.
She said: “If non-disabled pupils were sent home because there were not enough school staff, there would be uproar. We have to ask why is it happening so regularly when it comes to disabled children and what can be done to tackle it?”
Tara Flood, Director of the Alliance for Inclusive Education, said that the findings did not reflect the true extent of illegal exclusions.
“My fear is that these findings will be used by anti-inclusionists to bash inclusion. But this is about lack of capacity-building in mainstream and it’s an opportunity to look at the support schools need so that the first or second option isn’t exclusion.”
She said that the support didn’t necessarily need to be financial.
“A really good example involves circles of friends where a young person has a group of young people around them to talk about what is and isn’t going well. I know that the government think that sounds soft and fluffy, but that is a very effective method of reducing exclusion levels for young people with behaviour labels. It draws them back into the school community and potential friendships.”
Flood warned that there was a climate which discouraged the sharing of similar practices between schools and a pressure to increase discipline.
For its part, Contact a Family has urged schools to follow statutory procedures to ensure that when exclusions are necessary, decisions are fair and reasonable. The charity also says that schools should introduce more support for pupils with behavioural issues.
It also says that the regulator Ofsted has a role to play in recognising unlawful exclusions during inspections.