Quick-Fire Strategies: Reducing Exclusion Rates for SEMH Students

Quick-Fire Strategies: Reducing Exclusion Rates for SEMH Students

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Are exclusion and suspension rates among SEMH students causing concern in your school?

In our latest quick-fire episode of School Behaviour Secrets we consider what we actually mean by exclusion, the effects this can have on the life chances of our students and what we can begin to do to try to support students with SEMH in order to avoid exclusion.

Important links:

Get our FREE SEND Behaviour Handbook: https://beaconschoolsupport.co.uk/send-handbook

Download other FREE behaviour resources for use in school: https://beaconschoolsupport.co.uk/resources.php

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Show notes / transcription

Simon Currigan

Hi there. Simon Currigan here, and welcome to this week's episode of school behaviour secrets. This week, I'm releasing a quick fire episode because where we live in the UK, it's currently half term. In these quick fire episodes, I'd like to give you one idea or insight or strategy away from the main podcast that can be useful for improving behaviour or supporting children with SEMH needs in your school. And if you've been listening to the podcast and finding it useful, please don't forget to subscribe and tell your friends or colleagues about it and throw some good karma back out into the world.

I'd appreciate it. Welcome to the School Behaviour Secrets podcast. I'm your host, Simon Currigan. My cohost is Emma Shackleton, and we're obsessed with helping teachers, school leaders, parents, and, of course, students when classroom behaviour gets in the way of success. We're gonna share the tried and tested secrets to classroom management, behavioural special needs, whole school strategy, and more, all with the aim of helping your students reach their true potential. Plus, we'll be letting you eavesdrop on our conversations with thought leaders from around the world. So you'll get to hear the latest evidence based strategies before anyone else.

This is the School Behaviour Secrets podcast. In this episode, I want to answer a question that we get asked a lot in our work, which is what can we do in our school to reduce exclusions and suspensions for children with SEMH needs or what can we do in our local area to reduce exclusions. And I want to start just to define some terms here because different countries around the world use different terminology for this. I know that we have listeners that extend beyond the UK. So in the UK, for about the last 15 years, we've used 2 key terms in respect to exclusion. The first is permanent exclusion. This is a term that means a school is saying to a pupil, because of your behaviour in school, we are taking you off role. You have no choice about it, and you are no longer allowed to come on to our school site, and you now need to find another school place. In the past, we used to call this expulsion, which is what I believe it's still called around the world including in North America. In England and Wales, there's a law that says if a child gets permanently excluded or expelled from a school, then the local authority has to find them new provision within 6 days. And this might be, say, another school or a place in a pupil referral unit, but something is supposed to happen to ensure that child isn't just sitting at home.

The reality, well, that's often something quite different, but that's the theory anyway. Until recently in the UK, we used the term fixed term exclusion to describe the situation where a child engages in some behaviour, perhaps they were aggressive or unsafe or persistently disruptive. And the school says to the child, you must now stay at home as a punishment for a certain number of days, maybe 2, 3, 4, 5 days.

We used to call this a suspension. We've spent 15 years calling it a fixed term exclusion, and now we call it a suspension again. Why do all these terms keep changing? Well, I'm guessing it's because if you're a minister or an official at the Department of Education, a quick way to show you're having a real impact with an issue, to show that you're affecting change is to relabel it, to rebrand it.

You know, problem solved. Right? The minister can say, look. I did something.

I had an impact. Brilliant. So politics aside, exclusion is an important issue, not least because poor outcomes for the kids themselves in terms of exclusion, the outcomes for the child is a side issue, but the impact exclusion has on society itself for me, for you, for our neighbours, for our families. There's something called the school to prison pathway that essentially goes, the child gets permanently excluded from school, goes to a PRU, goes to a prison. We know from statistics that kids who get excluded are way, way more likely to become involved in criminality usually in their local neighbourhood, and that's expensive in terms of a society where we have to live with the consequences of that crime, you know, emotionally and financially, and in terms of the costs of accommodating people in prison and youth offending centers and the increased chances of future crime and convictions once someone goes down that path. You know? It's that classic downward spiral. And here's the thing, you are way more likely to be suspended or permanently excluded from school if you have an underlying special educational need, the suspension rate, which is basically the number of suspensions as a proportion to the number of overall students, the average suspension rate across the board in England and Wales last year was 1.94. Don't worry about what that number means too much, but compare it to the next number I'm gonna give you. If you've got a special need and an education, health, and care plan, that number jumps from 1.94 to 7 0.78.

And if you've got special needs and you don't have the support of an EHCP, it goes up to 8.16. So in short, that means if you've got an underlying special need in school, you are 4 times more likely to be suspended. And in terms of permanent exclusions, putting you on the school pre prison pathway, which isn't easy to say. If you've got an SEN need with an EHCP, you are twice as likely to be permanently excluded. An SEN need without an EHCP, you're 3 times as likely to be excluded. And I'd suggest there that the numbers with kids with EHCPs are marginally lower because schools and authorities are worried about excluding children with EHCPs because of the legal practicalities around that. So the question remains, what can we do to reduce the number of exclusions for kids with SEMH needs.

Well, in my opinion, it's the wrong question. The exclusion and the suspension rates are not the problem. There's a symptom of the problem. Imagine you're driving your car down the motorway and suddenly you see smoke coming out of the bonnet.

You don't have a smoke problem. Yeah? What you've got there is you've got an engine problem. The way to fix your car isn't to duct tape down the gaps between your bonnet and the body of your car. Turn off the fan so nothing blows into, you know, the main cabin and open up the windows to let fresh air in. It may appear like the smoke problem has gone, but you've still got an issue. There's still something underlying wrong with your car, with your engine. You've been focused on the smoke, not the engine, and that's entirely the wrong thing. And the same thing is happening here. We don't have a suspension or an exclusion problem. What we've got is an SEND problem in terms of how we identify and support pupils with special educational needs and disabilities, particularly for those kids with social, emotional, and mental health needs in our schools.

We need to be looking at how we meet those needs in a planned, logical, systematic way both at government level, local authority level, and at school all level. The exclusions, they're the smoke problem. What's causing the issue? The increasing rates of diagnosis of domestic violence of aces in our society.

That's the engine problem. Kids are walking through school doors with more complex presentations than ever before. At a government level, simple soundbite solutions like 0 tolerance. You should be focusing on quality first teaching or just raise your game and teach them better. They are not going to cut it.

So what does that mean? What can we do in our schools practically? Well, our behaviour policies and our attendance policies, because attendance and behaviour are closely linked, need to have a focus on identifying barriers and underlying needs for any mid to long term patterns of behaviour. How these policies link and trigger our school's special needs support is super important because when you dig down into it, in most cases of persistent challenging behaviour or poor attendance, there's an unmet need lying at the bottom of it. The usual way a student is supported by a school SENCO is through referral. That might be the referral of a teacher in school by request of a parent or even the child themselves. But we also have to be smart about the way we're collecting data in school because referrals rely on personal judgment and people's judgment varies. And any system that relies solely on judgment is going to miss students. So when we're thinking about who gets referred to the SENCO, we need to look at how we analyze behaviour data that we're already collecting in school and think about what patterns of data would trigger a leader in school to ask the question, has this child gone under the radar, and do they need SEND support? And we, as educators, also have to remember that you don't necessarily need a diagnosis to have an underlying need. When you look at the list of adverse childhood experiences that can impact on a developing child, things like experiencing parental separation, bereavement, parental substance abuse, none of those by themselves are going to result in a child receiving a diagnosis, but it doesn't mean there isn't an underlying need.

We've got to join the dots more quickly and put in place good enough support, not perfect support, but good enough support. And when we get that right, the exclusion rate, suspensions, and permanent exclusions should naturally go down as a result because we're focusing on the problem, the engine, not the symptom, the smoke. And when government looks at these problems, they've also got to look about how we fund this. Because at the moment, SEND support in school from the schools that I'm working with and I'm seeing day after day after day, the needs of the children are not being funded in a way that's commensurate to the support they require.

Inclusion done well, I'm sorry. It's expensive.

And as the numbers of children coming into school with increased complex needs keeps growing and growing and growing, that's gonna require additional financial support. Anyway, that's my 2 pennies on how to reduce the exclusion rates. Thanks for listening today.

I hope you found it useful. Next week, I'll be back with a normal episode of school behaviour secrets. Until then, have a brilliant week. I look forward to seeing you next

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)