For reference, an SSEN means that the child’s needs are identified and then appropriate support is put into place to meet those needs. Something is clearly going wrong with this process in Kent primary schools, to trigger ‘the most exceptional circumstances’ so often, and in my view there are four key factors. First and foremost is the culture of the school – do they set out to meet the needs of all their children. Secondly, the amount of training for education of SSEN pupils in teacher training is reportedly very low, and in any case statements are issued for a wide variety of conditions each of which needs different approaches. Thirdly, one has to ask if the level of support provided is sufficient or appropriate provided by the school (for example, are support staff properly skilled?) and fourthly, statemented children especially those who may have diagnoses such as autism, can be disruptive of the normal classroom if proper support is not available and so some schools will want to move them on.
Currently across the country a primary school child with an SSEN is nine times more likely to be permanently excluded than the norm, whilst at secondary school, with more specialist staff, the ratio falls to two to one, and I would suggest that the three factors I have given above are also the key to this.
Two issues suggest the problems will become exacerbated over the next few years for permanent exclusions in general and by extension exclusions for SSEN children. Firstly, the important safeguard of right of appeal to an independent panel against a permanent exclusion has been removed and replaced by independent review which can only recommend reinstatement of the child, but has no powers to enforce this. Secondly, the move to convert schools to academies makes them independent of Local Authority priorities, and there is considerable evidence to show that some academies are using these freedoms to exclude more children. In Kent at secondary level where there are more academies, these already account for two thirds of all permanent exclusions.
Kent has also come up with a new SEN strategy, which looks more closely at local solutions and school to school support, which may help to reduce or cap numbers affected. KCC has come up with a strategy to reduce permanent exclusions through the Managed Move, which sees the child change school by agreement of both, without the stigma of permanent exclusion and so does not feature in the statistics. Whilst this does have good features, it can itself hide problems of appropriate transfer. This requires agreement between schools and has seen secondary permanent exclusions in Ashford and Dartford for example to drop dramatically to almost zero. However for 2011-12, 78 of the 156 secondary permanent exclusions come from just 12 schools, all in East Kent, where the system is not in place. In Medway which uses this process extensively there was just one permanent exclusion from all schools.
Top of the list come Chaucer Technology College and Spires Academy, both in Canterbury, with 11 and 9 exclusions respectively. These are two of the six schools in Kent with smallest intake this year, so proportionately, their number of exclusions is far higher than any other school. Chaucer also came second in the list the previous year, although the highest number of exclusions in 2010-11 was at Westlands School in Sittingbourne, which has seen an encouraging fall for 2011012, possibly as a result of the negative publicity it attracted. Chaucer has attracted its own bad publicity earlier this year, on the departure of its headteacher.
Twelve months ago, I wrote another article on Kent’s new strategy for reducing permanent exclusions. It concluded: “Work is to be commissioned to tackle all these issues, with a target that by 2015, there will be fewer than 50 children permanently excluded from school including a proportional impact on those with SEN. This amounts to a challenging reduction of 80%. A second target is to see no permanent exclusion of Looked After Children. Whilst I applaud the targets, sadly I see that, with the independence of academies and the government scrapping of independent appeal panels which keep a check on the validity of permanent exclusions, KCC's ability to influence school behaviour is unlikely to be sufficient to achieve them. As a result we shall continue to see in Kent too many young people head for adulthood with damaged lives, to the detriment of all of society”. I see no reason to change that conclusion.