Sheffield pupil exclusion policy branded ‘unacceptable’

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TOO many children are being kicked out of Sheffield schools – and the centre supposed to offer them an alternative education simply can’t cope, a new report reveals.

City education chiefs are planning a major shake-up of a system which allows headteachers to ‘transfer’ problem pupils rather than permanently exclude them.

They believe a process supposed to be used only as a last resort is being used too frequently by schools – and it could be scrapped as a result.

Only a handful of youngsters were permanently excluded from school in 2011, according to official statistics.

But instead 120 pupils were transferred from school to the city’s Pupil Referral Unit in Spring Lane, Arbourthorne.

The unit has become seriously oversubscribed – in September it had 166 pupils. Its official capacity is 135.

As a result some children are on a waiting list, getting no education at all, or are only being offered part-time schooling – a situation which councillors will be told tomorrow is ‘not acceptable’.

Many parents say the system is not working and pupils referred to Spring Lane are in effect excluded from mainstream education.

Though parents must agree to a transfer, they have no later legal right of appeal if things don’t work out.

Sarah Draper, assistant director at the education authority, said: “There is a clear need for the city council to develop a clear strategy for tackling the high number of exclusions across the city.

“Our proposals will result in a much more transparent system regarding exclusions and the movement of children between schools across the city.”

Mrs Draper’s report to a council scrutiny committee argues the ‘supported transfer’ policy effectively keeps the true number of exclusions hidden.

The idea behind the strategy was to prevent the stigma of a permanent exclusion appearing on a young person’s school record, after statistics showed they are more likely to be long-term unemployed or get involved in crime.

But in 2010-11 the numbers of children being referred to the unit was up by nearly a third compared with 2005-06.

An interim ban on transfers could be introduced by the end of December.

* Bradfield School head David Conway said: “There are times when a student needs to be away from his peers to a place where he doesn’t have to be the person they expect him to be.

“It can also be useful to call on expertise that might not be available in your own school. I’m not sure schools do revert too readily to the transfer system.”

* Sheffield NASUWT national executive member Paul Desgranges said: “I do not believe schools are seeking to abuse the system. Referrals are only made after a detailed case is made – they would not be considered on the back of just one incident. There needs to be a pattern of behaviour over a period of time. Such issues should not be driven by limited places at the referral unit – the needs of the students should be the real issue.”

* Firth Park Community Arts College head Chris Keen said they had an internal unit that kept students in school. “Moving a student out of school is something we want to avoid at all costs.”