Norman Lamb spoke in Parliament today about his concerns over the soaring number of children who are being permanently excluded from schools in Norfolk. After raising the issue at Education Questions, the Minister for Vulnerable Children and Families, Edward Timpson, agreed to meet with Norman to discuss potential solutions to the problem.
Norfolk has one of the highest rates of permanent exclusions in the country, and the highest in the East of England. The number of pupils receiving a permanent exclusion has risen dramatically in recent years, with 296 pupils excluded in 2015/16 compared to just 170 in 2013/14.
A lengthy waiting list for places at the Short Stay School for Norfolk (SSSfN) has left children stuck at home for weeks, sometimes months, before they are able to get back to their education. As of 14th March, there were 96 children on the SSSfN waiting list, with children having to rely on inadequate alternatives such as e-courses in the meantime. While some excluded children are able to receive home tutoring, availability is limited and provision is often restricted to a couple of hours per week.
At Education Questions in the House of Commons, Norman challenged the Government on the adequacy of support for excluded children and asked the Education Minister what message he would send to Norfolk County Council to fix the unacceptable situation.
In response, Edward Timpson acknowledged that outcomes for excluded children in receipt of alternative education provision are “not good enough” and that exclusion "should always be a last resort.” He offered to discuss the matter with Norman during a forthcoming meeting.
Here are Norman's questions - and the full responses from the Minister:
Norman Lamb: What assessment has the Minister made of the adequacy of support provided to children excluded from school?
Edward Timpson: There are duties to ensure that children excluded from school have education in place; and although there are some excellent examples of alternative provision across the country, overall outcomes for children remaining in AP are not good enough. That is why our ambition to make schools responsible for commissioning AP and remaining accountable for the outcomes of those pupils, including circumstances where a pupil has been excluded, are so important
Norman Lamb: Does the Minister share my horror at the dramatic rise in the number of permanent exclusions in Norfolk – 296 in the last academic year, with 100 students at the last count waiting for a place at the short stay school? Given the awful outcomes for children who are permanently excluded, what message does he send to Norfolk to sort out this unacceptable situation?
Edward Timpson: Exclusion should always be a last resort and we need to make sure there are no inappropriate exclusions, either in Norfolk or anywhere in the country. I am meeting the honourable gentleman on another matter, and perhaps that is something we can discuss further in relation to this particular problem.
Commenting after raising the issue at Education Questions, Norman said:
“The dramatic rise in the number of excluded children in Norfolk is incredibly worrying, and I welcomed the Minister’s statement that exclusion should only ever be used as a last resort. Regrettably, however, this too often appears not to be the case in Norfolk.
“It is a failure of the system which is letting down some of our most vulnerable young people, particularly those with social, emotional or mental health needs. Students who display challenging behaviour should be given extra support, but instead they are frequently excluded by schools who don’t have the means or the know-how.
“Excluded children too often end up with wasted life chances, poor mental health, poor educational attainment and worklessness – and it costs the state a fortune. We have to do better. The Council must get on top of this scandalous situation and guarantee that every child gets the high-quality education they deserve.”