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Fears over sharp rise in permanent school exclusions across Derbyshire

The number of pupils permanently excluded from Derbyshire schools rose last year. Photo used for illustrative purposes.
The number of pupils permanently excluded from Derbyshire schools rose last year. Photo used for illustrative purposes.

The Conservative-run county council has agreed to write to Tories in central government to voice its concerns over the negative impact of a new school assessment method – which it says is “isolating pupils”.

A landmark report published this month by Derbyshire County Council showcased the sharp rise in permanent school exclusions in the county.

It found that in the year 2016/17 Derbyshire had the second-highest number of permanently excluded students in the East Midlands, far higher than neighbouring county councils such as Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire.

In the most recent complete figures, for 2016/17, there were 136 permanent exclusions – 68 of which were for persistent disruptive behaviour – up from 111 and 94 in the two previous years respectively.

The investigation had been carried out to find the reasons for this and to come up with some solutions.

One of the main reasons it found was the impact of the new school assessment method Progress 8 – introduced in 2016.

The report states that it was “definitely a factor in the increase in permanent exclusions”.

Council cabinet member for young people, councillor Alex Dale said: “It is a difficult balancing act for the Government to carry out. It needs to improve standards in schools without making the curriculum too narrow and isolating pupils.

“Progress 8 has gone too far and that’s why we recommended that we as a council write to the Government to express our concerns.”

Council leader councillor Barry Lewis said: “There is clearly a balance that needs to be struck here to cater for the challenges which each child faces.”

The note which the county council will write to Government is summarised in the report as follows: “The authority makes representations to the Government regarding the unintended consequences created by the schools accountability system, Progress 8, and the associated narrowing of the curriculum that impacts on less academic students.”

Progress 8 assesses the amount of progress students make during their time at secondary school.

It takes the grades which a student began with and compares them to youngsters across England who started with similar grades in up to eight subjects to assess how much progress has been made.

However, not all courses are included or carry equal weight in this band of assessment, with a focus heavily geared towards the usual academic subjects, such as English, maths and the sciences.

Generally, vocational type activities such as woodwork are deemed “not compliant” with the Progress 8 curriculum.

The report on permanent exclusions states: “An unintended consequence of this measure is that in secondary schools, the less academic students are becoming frustrated and disengaged with the learning process.

“The Progress 8 measure has unintentionally created a situation where head teachers are having to juggle what is best for the school as a whole and what is best for individual students.

“Some vocational-type activities may well be better for a small number of students but in deciding whether to provide vocational activities, the school has to weigh up the impact on how the school will be judged.”

The ruling cabinet also agreed to review whether to introduce a charge to schools offloading an excluded pupil to another school.

This had been previously discussed in 2015 but was rejected.

It had been suggested that schools should be charged £6,000 for each excluded pupil.

This would have to be paid to the receiving school within the same term as the transfer, not the following term as had previously been proposed.

If every excluded pupil was transferred to another school this would see payouts totalling £816,000 – based on the most recent figures of 136 permanent exclusions in a year.