The high rates of exclusion in England’s secondary schools are cause for great concern, and the government has been called upon to address this issue. A recent investigation conducted by The Guardian revealed that dozens of schools had suspended at least one in five of their pupils. Out of the 45 schools, which had handed out one or more fixed-period exclusions to at least 20% of their pupils during 2016-17, the majority were academies. One of these academies, Outwood Academy Ormesby in Middlesbrough, had excluded 41% of its pupils. Five of these schools were run by local authorities, while six were free schools.
A fixed-period exclusion is a formal suspension of a pupil from attending school for a set number of days, usually up to three days. A student can have multiple exclusions in a year. Out of the 45 schools identified in the investigation, nine were under the control of the Outwood Grange academy trust, which runs 30 schools in Yorkshire, the Humber and the East Midlands.
Last year, the national average of pupils receiving at least one suspension was 4.6%. However, at the Outwood Academy Ormesby, 41% of pupils were excluded, with 2,405 fixed-period exclusions given to 274 pupils in a single year. Outwood Academy Bishopsgarth, located nearby in Stockton-on-Tees, had the second-highest rate, with 34% of pupils being excluded last year, and 1,268 fixed-period exclusions given to 182 pupils.
A representative from the trust stated that their schools were among the toughest in the country, and the trust had repeatedly turned around their performance. He also mentioned that in many cases, the schools had been excluding high numbers of children informally, meaning that the increase in official exclusions was misleading. The trust pointed out that pupils at Outwood Academy Ormesby had beaten the school’s GCSE record for the last three years, and the school was over-subscribed. The trust referred to an Ofsted report that praised the school for successfully bringing about change and improvement at an impressive speed.
The Outwood academy Bishopsgarth has also seen record GCSE results this year, with a 7% increase on previous years. The trust emphasised that fixed-term exclusions were never issued for minor incidents, but for a student’s poor choice of reaction or response to a reasonable request.