Who is failing SEN students – schools or the Government?

by James Poole

Who is failing SEN students – schools or the Government?

It has long been recognised that students with special educational needs (SEN) are much more likely to receive both fixed-term and permanent exclusions. This is explicitly acknowledged in paragraph 19 of the latest Statutory Guidance (“The Guidance”) and was born out in the Government’s latest set of statistics relating to school exclusions in England. In 2012/13, students with a statement of SEN were over six times more likely to be subject to a fixed-term exclusion than students with no SEN, and over seven times more likely to be permanently excluded. Similarly, in Scotland, in 2013 a pupil with ‘additional support needs’ was four and half times more likely to be permanently excluded than one without such needs. The recent revisions to the Guidance threaten to worsen the position of these vulnerable young people yet further. http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/jan/06/pupils-lower-threshold-school-exclusions)

The starkness of these statistics is recognised in Paragraph 21 of the Guidance:

21. As well as having disproportionately high rates of exclusion, there are certain groups of children with additional needs who are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of exclusion. This includes pupils with Education, Health and Care Plans [or those with SEN statements whilst they still remain] and looked after children. Headteachers should, as far as possible, avoid permanently excluding any pupil with an EHC plan or a looked after child. (emphasis added)

Despite the fact that the Guidance specifically raises the required threshold for permanently excluding students with an EHC plan or statements of SEN (for the difference, see this article http://www.ipsea.org.uk/what-you-need-to-know/ehc-plans), the latest statistics convincingly prove that a student with SEN (with an official statement of needs or not) is far more likely to be excluded than a student without any SEN. This is a long-standing issue, and much has been written about reforming the education system in order to properly address the issues faced by students with SEN (see, for example http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2014/jul/06/special-educational-needs-reforms-lost-opportunity).

Looking at the discrepancies between the statistics relating to fixed term and permanent exclusions, however, reveals a more interesting and possibly nefarious pattern. The statistics are divided into three categories: students with an SEN certificate, students with SEN but no certificate, and students with no SEN. A student with a statement of SEN is six times more likely to receive a fixed-term exclusion than a student with no SEN, whilst a student with SEN but no statement is five times more likely. This correlates well with the long-term data relating to this area, and suggests that all students with SEN, statemented or not, are being treated in a comparable manner.

What is extraordinary is how this picture changes when looking at permanent exclusions. In 2012/13, a student with a statement of SEN was over seven times more likely to be permanently excluded than a student with no SEN. However, a student with SEN but no statement was eleven times more likely to be permanently excluded than a student with no SEN. Again, this is a long-term trend which has not seen any significant change since 2006/07. This perhaps suggests two issues:

1.      Schools are not adequately supporting students with SEN but without a statement. Of course, it is more difficult to make provision for a student whose exact difficulties are unknown, but there is no doubt that this stark discrepancy in the exclusion figures suggests that schools are failing to adequately address the issues that these students face; this is arguably a causative factor behind the disproportionately high levels of permanent exclusion.

2.      Paragraph 21 of the Guidance may provide somewhat of a shield to prevent the permanent exclusion of students with a statement of SEN or EHC plan, but provides no protection for those students, recognised as having SEN, but who do not have a official statement or plan.

Most worryingly, the statistics relating to permanent exclusion suggests that students with identified SEN but no statement are not getting the support they need, nor are their difficulties being taken into account properly when schools consider whether to exclude them or not. This is especially problematic once the many difficulties faced by parents in having their children statemented are factored into account (see http://www.specialneedsjungle.com/mothers-sen-statementing-battle-aspergers-son/). Schools have legal responsibilities with regard to the identification of SEN, and failure to do so can be grounds for ruling an exclusion illegal.

The fault does not lie solely with the schools – given that the Government already recognises the disproportionate damage that permanent exclusion causes all students with SEN, statemented or not, it makes logical sense that the Government ought to reconsider the wording of the Guidance, in order to extend the protection in paragraph 21 to all students with recognised SEN, not just those with statements or EHC plans. This would far better protect the educational rights of these vulnerable children, and prevent them from suffering the many damaging effects of permanent exclusion.

This article was prepared by the author in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of, nor are condoned by, the School Exclusion Project, Matrix Chambers, 11KBW, City University or our partners.

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