Headteacher perspectives on the reasons pupils are permanently excluded from special schools for pupils with severe learning difficulties.
The Open University.
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There is little existing research on permanent exclusions from special schools. This study focuses on Headteacher perspectives. It reports interviews with five Headteachers with recent experience of exclusion and a survey, sent to all maintained non-residential SLD schools in England. The survey received a 72% response.
Approximately twenty-five pupils are permanently excluded from SLD schools in England each year. Whilst the trend in special school exclusions has mirrored those of mainstream schools, little variation was evident in the number of SLD exclusions between 1994/5 - 1998/9.
The following factors were identified:
The need to protect staff and pupils from physical harm is a key imperative. All excluded pupils had exhibited violent behaviours prior to their exclusion. The allocation of staff presented the main method of risk management and LEAs were perceived to readily provide support under these circumstances. Whilst staff numbers are important, maintaining staff confidence can be equally critical.
Exclusion was linked to perceptions about whether the school had the capacity to bring about an improvement in behaviour. This involved judgements about whether the placement might be detrimental to the pupil’s best interests and whether his/her needs would better be met elsewhere.
The integrity of the intervention was linked to the degree with which consistency could be achieved. Whilst pupils exhibiting challenging behaviour attract support from many services this was perceived to be poorly coordinated. The most important form of consistency is that between home and school. Some parents were felt to undermine the intervention, others were perceived to be so ‘worn-down” by supporting the child, that they lacked the capacity to be more constructively involved. Most Headteachers were critical of the level of support available for parents. Children exhibiting more extreme challenges tended to be excluded from respite care. Where pupils required residential care this was rarely available locally.
Headteachers were concerned about the impact of challenging pupils on the school’s ability to provide for the needs of other pupils. The juxtaposition of physically vulnerable pupils with challenging pupils generated particular tensions. The increasing diversity of need being catered for within SLD schools was also associated with difficulties in managing behavioural challenges.
Placement change would normally be mediated through re-assessment. Permanent exclusion however might still occur if a significant increase in the level of challenge overtook these procedures. Problems could also arise where parents were opposed to a residential school placement, yet no local options were available.
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