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Suffolk school exclusions for 2022/23 look set to overtake previous year, new Government data shows





More should be done to reduce the ‘high’ level of school exclusions in Suffolk a campaign group has said, following the publication of new figures.

Mirroring the national trend, the number of suspensions in the county rose to 3,816 for the spring term 2022/23 driven by secondary schools (3,128 of suspensions), according to latest Government data for England.

Nationally there were 263,904 suspensions that term, which is a change from the trend of higher suspensions in the autumn term and is the highest recorded number of termly suspensions, the Government said.

Spring and autumn 2022-23 Suffolk suspensions and exclusions data
Spring and autumn 2022-23 Suffolk suspensions and exclusions data

The group Campaign for Change (Suffolk SEND) raised concerns over the ‘upward and accelerating trend’ for exclusions in Suffolk, adding that many exclusions, particularly those affecting children with special needs and disabilities, could be avoided by providing early intervention and support.

‘Persistent disruptive behaviour’

Also in line with the national picture, persistent disruptive behaviour was the main reason for suspensions in Suffolk (48.79 per cent).

But other reasons included verbal abuse or threatening behaviour (16.72 per cent against an adult, 4.40 per cent against a child), physical assaults (12.01 per cent against a pupil, 6.65 per cent against an adult), drug and alcohol related (1.90 per cent), use or threat of use of an offensive weapon or prohibited item (1.49 per cent), inappropriate use of social media or online technology (1.14 per cent).

School exclusions for 2022/23 are on track to overtake the previous year. Picture: iStock image
School exclusions for 2022/23 are on track to overtake the previous year. Picture: iStock image

And, for under one per cent of reasons, sexual misconduct, racist abuse, bullying and theft.

Referring to the national data, a leading education union said it reflected the ‘really difficult situation’ with challenging behaviour among some pupils.

More broadly, indications are that permanent exclusions and suspensions are on course to be higher for the 2022/23 academic year than the previous one, which is true for the national picture and Suffolk.

Combined, there were 7,331 suspensions and permanent exclusions in Suffolk in autumn and spring 2022/23, while the whole year figure for 2021/2022 was 8,067.

Suspensions are for a set period of time, while permanent exclusion refers to a pupil who is excluded and who will not return to that school. A child may have multiple suspensions.

For the autumn and spring terms 2022/23, Suffolk is in the worst third of more than 150 local authorities for overall permanent exclusion and suspension rates, but ranks among the worst in particular for primary school exclusions: the county is second worst for suspensions and 13th worst for permanent exclusions.

Suspensions and permanent exclusions for no SEN, SEN with statement or EHC, SEN without statement and state-funded primary in England and Suffolk between 2022/23 autumn term and 2022/23 Spring term
Suspensions and permanent exclusions for no SEN, SEN with statement or EHC, SEN without statement and state-funded primary in England and Suffolk between 2022/23 autumn term and 2022/23 Spring term

And 22 out of 23 primary school permanent exclusions across these two terms were for children with identified special educational needs (SEN) or even an education, health and care plan (EHCP), which is a legal document specifying the support a child should receive.

Nationally and in Suffolk, rates for suspension and permanent exclusion are higher for those with SEN and those in receipt of free school meals (FSM). For example, in Suffolk for spring 2022/23 the suspension rate for SEN with statement or EHC was 8.17, for SEN without statement it was 10.22, while for no SEN it was 2.43, which are higher than the national average.

‘Early intervention and support’

Suffolk parent Steven Wright, a spokesman for the Campaign for Change (Suffolk SEND) group, said exclusions were ‘too high’ and more should be done to reduce them.

He said: “We believe many exclusions, particularly those affecting children with SEND, could be avoided by providing early intervention and support. This would improve outcomes for individual children and be a far more efficient use of resources.”

He said the data from the spring and autumn terms 2022/23 was just the latest in an upward and accelerating trend seen from at least 2015.

He said: “It is clear that Suffolk County Council’s ‘emergency review’ of exclusions from 2021 has had no effect whatsoever. It seems the council has simply ignored its observations and recommendations and exclusions have risen relentlessly since.”

Campaigner Steven Wright said more should be done to reduce the number of school exclusions in Suffolk. Picture: submitted
Campaigner Steven Wright said more should be done to reduce the number of school exclusions in Suffolk. Picture: submitted

By excluding primary age-children with SEND (special educational needs and/or disabilities) it forced them into expensive and remote specialist provision rather than giving them the early, cost-effective support that would, most likely, have met their need, Mr Wright added.

‘There is no need for support to be withheld’

Bec Jasper is the founder and co-director of the Suffolk support group Parents and Carers Together CIC (PACT), which helps parents and carers with a child or young person with mental health issues.

She said PACT continued to hear from parents of children being suspended and permanently excluded.

“While we understand that applications for EHC needs assessments are increasing and that there are long waits for assessments, there is no need for support to be withheld,” she said.

“Parents speak of reaching out to schools to ask for reasonable adjustments to be made for their child, and often this will require no cost or minimal planning, but it can make a huge difference to a child’s ability to stay calm and focussed on learning.

“Where these are not supported or followed we know it can sometimes lead to children feeling unable to cope and becoming dysregulated, which can then lead to punitive measures such as isolation or suspension.”

Suspensions and permanent exclusions for No SEN, SEN with statement or EHC and SEN without statement in England and Suffolk for 2022/23 spring term
Suspensions and permanent exclusions for No SEN, SEN with statement or EHC and SEN without statement in England and Suffolk for 2022/23 spring term

She added that some schools focusing more on behavioural policies without understanding the need for flexibility for some students may also play a part in rising numbers of placements failing due to children being unable to tolerate such rigid environments.

Schools where inclusive and more trauma-informed practice were prioritised appeared to have much lower numbers of isolations, suspensions and permanent exclusions, she said.

‘It hasn’t happened out of the blue’

Commenting on the latest data Pepe Di’Iasio, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This data unfortunately reflects what we are hearing from school leaders across the country – that there is a really difficult situation with challenging behaviour among some pupils.

“There are a number of reasons for this – mental health issues, unmet special educational needs, disengagement with the curriculum and, in some cases, wider problems within families.

“It hasn’t happened out of the blue. The whole tapestry of social and mental health support services around families and children has receded over the past 14 years because of budget pressures and increasing demand and schools are left to pick up the pieces without sufficient funding. This means behavioural issues often escalate to a point at which a suspension – or exclusion – is the only option that is left.

“It is a terrible legacy of government underinvestment.”

Association of School and College Leaders new General Secretary Pepe Di'Iasio
Association of School and College Leaders new General Secretary Pepe Di'Iasio

The increase in suspensions in Suffolk for spring 2022/23 is an increase on both the previous term, which saw 3,412 suspensions, and the previous year’s spring term, which recorded 2,769 suspensions.

While the number of permanent exclusions remained the same across the spring and autumn terms 2022/23 at 53 for each, it is higher than the previous spring term figure of 43.

This also reflects the national trend: there were 3,039 permanent exclusions in spring term 2022/23 – a decrease compared to the autumn term, but a rise on the previous spring term.

Permanent exclusions are typically higher in the autumn term each year than the subsequent spring and summer terms, so spring term 2022/23 is consistent with that trend, the Government said.

Suffolk County Council, which is the local education authority, was approached for comment.

However, last year the then cabinet member Cllr Rachel Hood said the decision to permanently exclude pupils was made by schools, but revealed the council had established a new team to support families when children had been permanently excluded.

She also said they had been working alongside schools to help them achieve the Inclusion Quality Mark, which helps schools to find alternatives to exclusion and improve their SEND provision.