We are a project that provides free advocacy to help parents appeal against their child’s permanent exclusion. We specialise in disability discrimination and cases where the child has special educational needs. Those children with disabilities and special educational needs are at a much higher risk of being permanently excluded, and therefore require greater protection and a louder voice.
Why does the Project exist?
School exclusions are a major social problem. The first phase of the Children’s Commissioner’s Inquiry into School Exclusions, published in April 2012 (“They Never Give Up On You”) highlighted widespread illegal practice by schools in relation to school exclusions, the glaring disparities in exclusion rates for children with different characteristics (Black Caribbean boys and children with disabilities are significantly over-represented) and the serious adverse impact of school exclusions on the opportunities of excluded children.
What has the Project done so far? What impact have we had?
The impact of an exclusion from school of a child with SEN, most especially when it is unjustified, can be truly terrible. The problem is less the experience of being excluded itself (traumatic though that often is), than the options that a child is left with once excluded. Most excluded children must attend a Pupil Referred Unit (PRU) with other children who have been excluded. PRUs overall have a poor record of educating excluded children: an Ofsted report in 2007 found that one in eight PRUs were inadequate.1 Less than 1% of pupils at PRUs achieved 5 GCSEs at grades A*-C in 2008,2 and only 11.7% achieved at least one GCSEs at A*-C.3
So any disabled child who is able to avoid being unjustifiably excluded is provided with an invaluable lifeline. Although (unfortunately) it is not true that every acquittal in a criminal context is life-changing, any appeal that is upheld in the exclusions context most certainly is life-changing.
Since 2011, there have been so many disabled children’s lives that have been transformed in this way. The Guidance and the Equality Act 2010 is clear about the need to protect disabled children and children with statements of special needs, and yet this is too often not adhered to:
The IRP must bear in mind that the Head Teacher and GDC “should as far as possible avoid excluding permanently any pupil with a statement of Special Educational Needs.” (Department of Education Guidance 2012 – para 22)
For those parents whose appeal or review of the decision to exclude their child was not successful, they each have, because of the project, something almost as valuable: the ability to hold their school to account. Too many schools regard children who are at risk of exclusion as liabilities, best to be gotten rid of quickly and quietly. So one of the benefits of the Project is that unscrupulous schools are challenged and required to justify their decisions, and schools are forced to re-think their approach to “problem” children. Further, the parent can be sure that their case has been put the best possible way it could be put.
Often the parents of excluded children are less articulate and unable to properly see the relevance of many of the points they wish to make (much like many other litigants in person in the formal court process). They are also likely to be very overwhelmed with the whole system, and how wrongly they feel that child has been treated by the school. Where the Project represents a child, even if they are in fact excluded, at least their parents feel like they have had their say and that they‟ve put up a good fight. Further, any school that does exclude a child, despite representation by the Project, can be confident that due process has been followed.