Exclusion rates in secondary schools across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole are well above the national average
The number of secondary school pupils being permanently excluded across Christchurch, Bournemouth and Poole has hit double the national average, figures have revealed.
BCP Council’s latest children’s services overview and scrutiny committee heard that the latest comparative data for autumn term 2022-23 shows the overall exclusion rate was up by 94%.
There were a total 118 permanent exclusions in 2022-23 of children who were classed as being “persistently disruptive” and had been physically abusive towards a fellow pupil.
Kelly Twitchen, service manager of BCP Council’s inclusion team, said primary schools, too, had been seeing an upward trend in rates, but these were more in line with regional and national figures which had spiked since the pandemic.
Ms Twitchen set out plans to work with schools to tackle the issue and produce an action plan, but speaking at the meeting, headteacher of St Michael’s Primary School, Anthony Evans, said it was with a “heavy heart” that any head excluded a pupil.
“It is a necessity to offset the pressure of staff retention and the disruption and harm to other children,” he said. “And it is the hope that such measures will allow a reflection and change in pupil behaviour.
“As heads, we are dealing with very challenging behaviour – we’ve all been hit, punched, kicked and spat at; and we need clear pathways of support and quality provision.
“It feels as if some of these things only kick in when a child has been permanently excluded.”
A report to committee set out a number of reasons cited by stakeholders for the increase in exclusion rates, including staffing pressure eroding schools’ capacities to deal with challenging behaviour, fewer support services from local authorities, and reduced flexibility on the part of schools to provide a varied curriculum that includes vocational options.
Cllr Peter Cooper said pupils were struggling to conform within a “rigid” education system that had failed to keep pace with change.
He suggested schools focus on pastoral support to foster trust and “nip things in the bud”, but Mr Evans pointed out such roles within schools were “already stretched to the max”.
“We have pastoral workers and they can’t cope with the current workload,” he said. “I think it’s just very complex with some children, and even with support workers we can’t unpick why some children are behaving the way they are.
“There’s a depletion in services – referrals to paediatricians take up to 18 months; we are educators and we don’t always understand what the triggers are.”
Mr Evans called for more training for teachers, more direct support from BCP Council before a school hits crisis point with a pupil, and more money to enable better support for children.
“When I worked in London we had somebody from the borough who we could contact if we had any issues,” he said. “They would come and look at our provision, and make immediate suggestions – in this authority that just doesn’t exist for me.
“I feel really upset that we are sometimes suspending when perhaps we don’t need to. Then we get a phone call the next day to arrange alternative provision – why can’t we have that money earlier so we could arrange some mentoring or some respite for everyone?”
Cllr Jamie Martin called the educational system “archaic”, and said it no longer served “kids of a completely different generation that lead completely different lives”.
“It needs to be more diverse,” he said. “What’s really positive though is that we see an improved communication with schools, so we can build the trust.”
Ms Twitchen said pupils who had been excluded were more likely to be unemployed or involved in criminal activity.
“These children are really struggling with anxiety, mental health and social and emotional needs,” she said. “We need to look at training by people who really understand these children.
“We need a clear pathway that all partners are aware of – and working with schools to ensure we get that pathway right is really important.”
Councillors made a recommendation that council request an update on the action plan in September.