COLUMN: Alarming figures for fixed-term exclusions at Sheffield schools

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Fixed-term exclusions are being used far too frequently as a punishment by many Sheffield secondary schools.

In alarming figures that were recently released, it emerged that 5,688 fixed-term exclusions were handed out during the 2015-16 academic year. That’s the equivalent of 18.5% of all the city’s secondary school students receiving a period away from school as a sanction.
A fixed-term exclusion means the student is barred from attending the school for a set number of time, usually determined by the headteacher. This can range from being part of one day, right up to the maximum time allowed of 45 days.
It’s different from a permanent exclusion, which would be the result of serious behavioural issues within a school and needs a special panel to sit down and agree the action.
Schools are deterred from permanently excluding too many students because there is a financial cost linked to it – the best part of £10,000 has to come out of the budget for every student booted out to another school.
But fixed-term exclusions work differently. They are utilised as part of the school’s behaviour management policy and students know that it is one of the most serious sanctions in the arsenal.
A fight in school, swearing at a teacher or vandalism are examples where schools would easily be able to justify a fixed-term exclusion – which used to be known as a suspension back in the day.
Typically, a serious incident might merit a 5-day exclusion, which neither the student or their family will welcome and so the theory is that it acts as a deterrent.
But it doesn’t. Because many of those being excluded are repeat offenders and face this punishment throughout the year.
Sheffield has been named and shamed by OFSTED because it is one of the ten local authorities that use fixed-term exclusions most leniently.
Middlesbrough is the worst offender. The fixed-term exclusions up there are off the charts, equivalent of more than 60% of the school population getting their marching orders.
And in South Yorkshire, Doncaster and Rotherham have higher rates than Sheffield – so that’s three authorities in our county that make their way into the top ten.
Worryingly, all the ten biggest excluders are in the north of England.
The difference between schools in the country is stark, just as the difference is between schools in the city.
This comes down to the type of management in schools or, often, across Multi Academy Trusts. There are MATs in South Yorkshire who rely far more heavily on fixed-term exclusions than others.
And it’s when students are asked to leave school for relatively minor offences that schools should be held to account and the stats start to rack up.
It’s very often not down to the behaviour of the students, rather than how tolerant the school is around certain issues. For example, some schools will issue a fixed-term exclusion for non-compliance with uniform rules.
Forcing a child to spend time away from school when their peers are in lessons learning is never a good thing.
Schools issue information to parents about how important it is to keep their children in school, about how even a few days off can have a significant impact on their education.
And yet here we are with a situation across most of South Yorkshire where school are choosing to bar students from their grounds. It’s ridiculous.
Where fixed-term exclusions are being dished out willy-nilly, parents should be approaching the headteacher and governors to question the validity of the policy.
There are better ways to go about it.
Rather than giving out fixed-term exclusions, schools should be relying more on internal isolations. If a move to this policy is made, the students are kept in school and work in isolation.
Yes, there is a cost implication because those being isolated will need to be supervised, but the long-term benefits for the school will surpass this.
Crucially, a student who is internally isolated can have class work sent to him. They can continue to learn, not in as effective a manner as if they were in their lesson but much more effectively than at home.
Internal isolations don’t work in every case. You’re not going to give out an internal isolation to a boy who has attacked members of his class.
But if somebody turns up in the wrong shoes, or is wearing the wrong trousers, don’t send them home.
We need to keep Sheffield youngsters in school rather than taking the easy option and passing the buck to parents.