Children with disabilities illegally excluded from school

A new report reveals that many children with disabilities are being illegally excluded from school and suggests Ofsted should intervene. This is from the Guardian…

Hannah Phillips lost count of the times her son James was excluded from primary school for disruptive behaviour. There were daily phone calls from staff, often asking her to take him home, and his three older siblings were fed up with being called out of class to deal with him. He was frequently placed in isolation, away from the classroom, and excluded from school trips and activities, says Phillips.

James has Down’s syndrome and moderate learning difficulties. So what his teachers classed as disruptive behaviour, was actually “general excitement and joie de vivre”, says his mother. With the right kind of help, she believes he could have progressed well in a mainstream school. But she was disappointed by the support that was offered. “The attitude seemed to be: ‘We don’t really want him here, but we have to take him because the education system says we have to take children with special needs.'”

Julie Sheppard also found herself making frequent trips to her school to collect her son Logan – who has autistic spectrum disorders – because staff said his behaviour was unmanageable.For Sheppard, the multiple trips back and forth to the school became too much. “I remember ringing my mum in tears, saying: ‘I can’t keep doing this’,” she says.

There are clear guidelines for schools, set out by the Department for Education, about school exclusions. A child can only be legally excluded for disciplinary reasons and headteachers must tell parents and carers formally, in writing, why their child has been excluded and for how long.

But new research published today by the charity Contact A Family suggests that some schools are regularly making unlawful exclusions. The charity’s survey of over 400 families of children with disabilities or additional needs found that 22% are illegally excluded once a week and 15% every day (for part of the day). More than 60% of the parents have been told that their child has been put on a part-time timetable – something that can be appropriate for short periods of time (for instance, when a child is returning to school after an illness) but should not continue indefinitely. While the majority of children experiencing illegal exclusions are in mainstream schools, around 20% are in special schools. The most common reasons given for exclusion are that the school doesn’t have enough support staff or that the child is “having a bad day”.

Contact A Family is calling for schools to have better access to specialist support services, including amendments to the children and families bill, that would help young people with disabilities and additional needs to access educational support more easily; and more guidance on when it is appropriate to agree a part-time timetable for children with disabilities and special needs. The charity also wants schools found to be illegally excluding children to automatically receive a grading of “inadequate” from Ofsted.

The report echoes the findings of an inquiry carried out by the Children’s Commissioner last year, which found that children with disabilities and additional needs were among those most likely to be affected by illegal exclusions. Next month, it will publish the findings of a second year of more in-depth research on the issue.

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