James at the Education Select Committee
James at the Education Select Committee

Bury North MP James Frith has called on schools and Government to do more to support vulnerable children as the latest figures show school exclusions are on the rise.

Figures released this week by the Department for Education show a 15% increase in permanent exclusions between 2015/16 and 2016/17. The figures for Bury are nearly three times the national average, with 83 permanent exclusions in Bury last year – two for every week of the school year.

The poorest pupils, those on free school meals, are four times more likely to receive permanent exclusions than other pupils. Children with special educational needs account for around half of all expulsions nationally.

James said:

“Schools tell me they’re at breaking point because of funding cuts. In my survey of local schools, over 50% of Bury headteachers say they’ve had to cut support for pupils with special educational needs and over 70% have cut external student support such as behavioural support and 1-1 mentoring. It is no wonder that these cuts in support to vulnerable children have led to a rise in exclusions.

“The Government need to step up and give our schools the funding they need to support vulnerable children, but schools also have a role to play. Cuts are no doubt having an impact, but with exclusions at nearly three times the national average clearly there are issues to address in Bury and I’ll be discussing this with headteachers and the local authority in the coming weeks and months.”

The figures come as Parliament’s influential Education Select Committee releases its report into Alternative Provision – education outside school, arranged by local authorities or schools, for pupils who do not attend mainstream school for reasons such as school exclusion, behaviour issues or short- or long-term illness – which states that excluded pupils are being failed by the education system.

The Education Committee report says that children are being over-excluded and being left “abandoned” in alternative provision, which “too often fails to give them the education they deserve”.

New research by charity The Difference, which aims to bring the best teachers to Alternative Provision, shows that only 1% of excluded pupils get the 5 good GCSEs they need to access further education, training or employment. Although they are the minority of the school population, excluded pupils go on to become the majority of the prison population.

The Committee recommends a series of measures which can act as a ‘Bill of Rights’ for pupils and their parents to help combat the existing lack of information and rights. The report finds there is a “lack of moral accountability” on the part of many schools with no incentive to, or deterrent to not, retain pupils who could be classed as difficult or challenging.

Speaking on the release of the report, which he helped to write as a member of the Education Select Committee, James said:

“Parents and pupils are facing a system which doesn’t meet their needs, with over-exclusions leaving too many children languishing in inadequate Alternative Provision which is not providing the education all our children deserve.

“Our committee has called for a Bill of Rights for parents and pupils and significant improvements in Alternative Provision to deliver the best possible support to vulnerable children who need it the most. This includes getting the best teachers into alternative settings through organisations like The Difference and I’ll be meeting them in Bury soon to discuss how we can improve local provision.”

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