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Exclusion from school ‘should be phased out’ for youngest learners

Exclusion from school is ‘useless’ to children and their families, and should be phased out for children aged 3-7, according to the Children’s Commissioner for Wales.

Professor Sally Holland said that instead of being punished through exclusion, children should receive the specialist help they need, when they need it, before their problems worsen.

According to the Commissioner’s research, published in a new report,  768 fixed-term exclusions took place across Wales for children aged 3-7 in the 2018-19 academic year, although this figure is likely to be higher as not all local authorities reported their statistics.

On average, 9 children per local authority had been excluded more than once.

One child was excluded 18 times in one academic year.

All of these children were in the foundation phase, which covers ages 3-7.

An exclusion can either be for a set amount of days, known as ‘fixed-term’, or permanent.

No children were permanently excluded in that time period.

Inclusive and nurturing practices

Geraint Jones, Head Teacher at Ysgol Bryn Teg, Llanelli, which is mentioned in the Commissioner’s report as an example of good practice, said:

“The Governing Body and staff in my school have worked incredibly hard as a team, in developing inclusive and nurturing practices throughout the school. This ensures that each and every pupil is offered the required amount of care and support to meet their needs. We strive for early identification and meeting the needs of all our pupils. This is a real challenge, and requires constant maximum efforts, along with continual development of our workforce to ensure we can provide the best education possible to all our learners.

“We have been fortunate of securing Welsh Government funding to reduce infant class sizes. We also utilise other temporary funding such as our Pupil development grant. These funding streams, along with our careful management of our school budget across the school has allowed us to provide the essential strategies that our learners need. We have been fortunate to receive the support and guidance of professionals such as Helen Davies, Senior Educational Psychologist for Carmarthenshire Local Authority, who has delivered training, and encouraged other school staff to view our beneficial provision.

“Each class across the whole school, receives tailored support that allows us to run additional interventions, such as our successful Nurture offer. Our concern would be that we can maintain and continue to offer these vital services, which are under review constantly, with changes seen at a frequent level from Welsh Government. I would like to use this opportunity to plead that all schools require the vital funding directly to schools, on as many levels possible. If Health, Social Services and Education can all have the maximum funding required to provide the staffing levels needed to work directly with families and pupils, then we could see all pupils get the required levels of support needed to succeed. Reducing bureaucracy, and red tape, could allow us to further manage, lead and improve on strategies and support that can be put in place for learners to achieve and succeed. Provisions such as our Nurture provision should be an entitlement, not an addition which has the uncertainty of long term continuation due to temporary funding.”

‘Children being failed by the system’

Professor Sally Holland, Children’s Commissioner for Wales, said:

“The foundation phase is when children lay the foundations for happy and healthy lives where they get the right learning experiences and support to develop their skills and fulfil their potential. Some need more support than others to lay these foundations successfully, and at the moment there are children who really are being failed by the system.

“When you have a child excluded 18 times in one academic year, that can’t be right. We can’t go on like that.

“Really what I want to see is Wales moving to a position where foundation phase children are never excluded. These children will have issues that they need support and love to overcome. They are not simply ‘naughty’ children, and exclusion is completely useless to them because it does nothing to address the root cause of the issue. They need a different approach, and often a specialist intervention to succeed, and one that is far more in line with the right of every child to have an equal opportunity to reach their potential.

“I’ve seen schools across Wales really trying their best, but they face numerous challenges, including time pressures, staffing issues, and large class sizes. And schools with higher levels of socio-economic deprivation could face a wider range of challenges.

“Changing this alarming picture will require leadership and determination from the Government, Local Authorities, and others like education consortia and health boards, who will all need to work with school leaders.

“To help with this, I’ve also published a report and toolkit today for schools that has some excellent case study examples of schools who are succeeding to provide a nurturing environment to pupils who have really struggled at other schools”