At a time when the rising tide of school exclusions is hitting the national headlines, North Yorkshire is beginning work with its schools to reduce the exclusion rate.
Increasingly education and regional and national leaders are pointing to exclusion as part of a downward spiral for children and young people as evidence shows that those who are permanently excluded suffer in terms of educational outcomes and life chances and are more vulnerable to gangs. Ofsted has said it will take into account a school’s exclusion figures in future inspection judgements.
The County Council recently decided to shift prevention funding from its pupil referral service to school partnerships to help drive forward a more inclusive mainstream culture so that young people can remain in their local schools with the right support and curriculum.
As part of this initiative the council is working with school leaders to share good practice such as that at Risedale Sports and Community College in Catterick, which is already taking concerted action to tackle exclusions and for the last six months has had no exclusions in school.
Case study: tackling exclusion the Risedale way
Colin Scott is not in the business of letting his students off the hook.
As principal of Risedale Sports and Community College in Catterick he makes it clear that any student thinking of kicking off to get out of lessons can think again.
“It’s so easy” he said, “for students to become awkward and difficult every time they don’t want to do something if they know we will send them away. And it’s so easy for teachers to get rid of a kid from the classroom because they are being disruptive.
“In my mind that disempowers teachers and it sends out the wrong message to students. If a teacher is not skilled to deal with a student and removes them from class that sends the message that they can’t deal with them.
“But here at Risedale we want our young people to know that even if they are giving up on themselves, we are not. Our business is to support them, not remove them. In this school exclusion is the last resort.”
Indeed exclusions have reduced rapidly over the last two years since Colin Scott’s arrival. In February 2015, 53 exclusions resulted in 173.5 lost school days. This month (Feb 2019) marks the sixth month of no exclusions. In February 2016 there were 923 removals of students from class. This month there have been 93. In February 2016 attendance was 91 per cent. This month it stands at 95 per cent.
“It’s easy for people to think that if you don’t exclude challenging children that behaviour in the school will worsen”, said Colin. “But we have shown that the opposite can be true. Our exclusions last term dwindled to nothing, but our removals from class also dramatically reduced. And attendance is improving markedly. Students here know they are wanted.”
Colin spent 22 years as a special constable with Northumbria police. He is also an Ofsted inspector. He is not a walkover. He believes that consequences for poor behaviour must be fit for purpose. The aim is to equip children for life; not let them run away from it.
He said: “As a senior team we are very visible in the school; we move around a lot. Kids know we will challenge them and we nip little things in the bud before they become big things.”
Ofsted has become concerned nationally by the rising tide of school exclusions and will judge schools critically with a high exclusion record. Evidence shows that children who find themselves outside mainstream school have poorer life chances.
North Yorkshire County Council is currently reshaping services within the high needs budget for special educational needs in order to bring down exclusions. It has agreed a range of proposals which will help to drive forward a more inclusive mainstream culture, create enough places to meet needs and more local alternative provision. It will also secure some savings in an area of massive overspend.
“Permanent exclusions have risen significantly, despite our investment in the pupil referral service of over £4.7m each year” said Cllr Patrick Mulligan, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Education and Skills. “The present system is not working.”
You could say that in this respect, Risedale is one step ahead.
Risedale College is a garrison school – 50 per cent of students have parents in the army. This means mobility is high – four times the national average. One student currently is on his 10th school and this is not uncommon. This brings its own challenges and disruption. But these days, says Colin, the school is calm and purposeful. Garrison commander Joe Jordan, who sits on the governing body, concurs. “Students do very well here,” he said, “there’s lots of great things for them to get on with.”
Currently there are 512 on roll, but the school’s reputation for taking good care of its students is growing and the roll is expected to rise to 540 this year– even before the expected garrison expansion. As a result, a £300,000 deficit has reduced to £120,000 and is expected to bring in a surplus during the course of this financial year.
This means that Colin can appoint a deputy head who will oversee alternative provision – a centre where students with difficulties will be given an intensive curriculum for up to three months. The curriculum will include English, maths and science but be tailored to the student’s needs. The deputy will also oversee the new behaviour policy where exclusion is the last resort,(drugs, knives), not the first response.
Assistant principal and special educational needs coordinator, Sally Zaranko, also points out the investment in curriculum and extra-curricular activity. There have been trips to France and Germany and a Russian exchange. The school is big on Duke of Edinburgh and has added drama, French and media studies to the curriculum and has retained music – creating a recording studio. Lunchtimes buzz with chess club, sport of all kinds, theatre. There are also clubs between 3 and 4pm after school – cheerleading and a running club, made up mainly of girls, to name two.
“All this activity gives the message that teachers want to give their time to students because they are worth it,” said Sally. “It’s about building relationships in a really effective way.”
Gary Morley agrees. He is ex-army, has a background in youth justice and is employed by Risedale to liaise with families and improve attendance. He sees his job as building trust and positive relationships on the doorstep rather than turning up with a list of demands. He meets and greets students at the school gate when they arrive in the morning, and waves them off at the end of the day. He said: “We have a solution-centred approach here; we build trust with families and that pays dividends. Our attendance is improving and things are definitely on the up.”