A recent report by the Commons Education Select Committee claims that too many pupils are being excluded because of zero tolerance policies in schools. MPs particularly criticise schools where pupils are being ‘punished needlessly’ for minor rule infringements of uniform policy.
There were more than 40 permanent exclusions a day in English schools, figures for 2016/17 show. The committee concludes that the ‘wild west’ system of school exclusions is ‘failing pupils’ and that alternative provision is inadequate.
As well as formal exclusions, the committee also expresses concern about the practice of ’off rolling’, where pupils with special educational needs are removed from registers before their GCSEs to help schools gain better league table scores. This is clearly unacceptable and needs to be addressed at an individual school level.
The report calls for a bill of rights to help parents and children who find themselves caught up in a system that is clearly in favour of schools. It also urges the government to look into whether financial pressure on schools has contributed to the rise in exclusions.
In fact, the exclusion rate now is lower than it was in 2007. There is general agreement that excluding a pupil should be a last resort and that for those who are excluded there should be well funded and effective alternative provision.
However, some commentators point out that the Committee attempts to offer simple solutions to a complex problem; the decision to exclude a pupil is not taken lightly and is usually the result of an accumulation of incidents well beyond mere minor infringements.
Zero tolerance in schools can create clear expectations and set boundaries for pupils, helping to create a calm, civilised space where pupils are free from bullying and can thrive. It also helps to tackle low level disruption in the classroom which impacts on the learning of the majority.
Rather than making it more difficult for schools to exclude persistently disruptive or violent pupils, there needs to be increased funding to support pupils with behavioural issues in schools and better provision for those who need to be excluded for the good of the majority.