School exclusions down as mental health issues are better recognised

Inclusive: School exclusions are down as council finds ways to keep students in mainstream education
Inclusive: School exclusions are down as council finds ways to keep students in mainstream education
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Work to support school children with the “ballooning issue” of  mental health problems in Rotherham is to be included in a Government review of the way pupil exclusions are handled nationally.

The town was selected for a “deep dive” by Department for Education staff, to check on the work being done on dealing with exclusions in the town and that has highlighted examples of improved ways of working which will be flagged up as part of the review.

Rotherham Council took action three years ago after it became clear numbers of both permanent and fixed term exclusions were increasing.

Work in the meantime has resulted in an overall fall from peak levels several years ago, though numbers of permanent exclusions were up slightly last year.

In the academic year starting in September 2014 there were 4,213 fixed term exclusions, which fell to 3,550 in the year starting last September.

There were 55 permanent exclusions in the year starting September 2014, dropping to 38 in the 2016 academic year, though they rose to 45 in the last full year.

In the last few years, the student population in Rotherham has grown by ten per cent, however, and Coun Gordon Watson suggested that because permanent exclusion levels were so low, it was more accurate to assess them on a rolling three year basis rather than taking one year in isolation.

New working practices were introduced because it was believed the increase in exclusions was down to growing mental health problems being experience by young people.

The council has two referral units, which work with children experiencing problems, and they have been reconfigured recently, in terms of the work staff do and the fabric of the buildings, which have been upgraded.

Coun Watson said: “They are doing wonderful work in often challenging circumstances. They are making a difference,” he said.

“We have seen a problem three years ago, we are working on it, it has improved year on year and we are intending for it to continue to improve. We will not take our eye off the ball.”

Improved work means more children experiencing problems are now kept in mainstream education, with an acceptance that each exclusion represents a failure in the system.

Head teachers now have the option of a graduated response to handling cases of pupils with problems, where historically they may have seen exclusion as the only option available to them.

Councillors heard from an officer involved in the work, who described mental health among school age children as a “ballooning issue”.

The council has also made a bid for ‘trailblazer’ funding from the Department for Health, which would pave the way for further improvements in dealing with pupils experiencing problems at both primary and secondary school age.

A decision is expected next week and the council is hopeful that, if successful, it will help finance some significant improvements – both for schools and the council’s specialist centres.