No headteacher or school leader wants to exclude pupils, and this should be a power used as a last resort. As the report highlights, it is often the most vulnerable children who are excluded, and we must ensure that the right support is there. For some time I have urged the Secretary of State to match Labour’s proposals and ensure that there is proper responsibility for pupils who leave school rolls, and I am glad he has said he will accept that, along with all the review’s other recommendations.
I know there will be further consultation, but does the Secretary of State have a proposed approach to how and, critically, when schools will be accountable for the outcomes of excluded pupils? It took well over a year and several delays before today’s publication. Further consultation, however necessary it may be, cannot become an excuse for more foot dragging, so when will the consultation conclude and implementation begin?
I am also concerned that the report is limited only to permanently excluded children. Is there accountability for pupils who leave school rolls outside formal permanent exclusion? If not, surely there is a risk not only that this measure will fail to tackle off-rolling, but that it will make the perverse incentives that lead to it even worse, not better. I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement that the practice is unacceptable, unlawful and will be subject to a promised crackdown, but can he tell us how that will be achieved? What sanctions will be available to deter or prevent off-rolling?
The Secretary of State refers to Ofsted, but multi-academy trusts are not inspected, many schools go a decade with no inspection and Ofsted has suffered a 52% real-terms cut to its budget. Can it really tackle off-rolling under those constraints? His commitment to extending support for alternative provision is welcome, but will any additional funding be provided? What concrete measures will we see? The latest wave of free schools included just two that specialise in alternative provision, so how can he address the lack of services in some areas without allowing other schools to be built? Nor did he mention unregistered and unregulated alternative providers. Does he plan to take any further steps to enforce standards?
Let me ask the Secretary of State the obvious question that this review poses but fails to answer. Schools and all the other services that support the most vulnerable children are facing the worst cuts in a generation. The Secretary of State and the review dance around the impact of those cuts, but it is no good holding schools to account for obligations they do not have the resources to meet. Does he not accept that pupils are at greater risk of exclusion when support staff have been lost as a result of funding cuts? How can we implement early intervention when the very services that provide it are being stripped away? What guarantee can he give that the next spending review will give those schools and services the funding they need and deserve?
The aims of this review are shared on both sides of the House, as the Secretary of State mentions. I welcome the steps that have been taken, including the adoption of some of Labour’s proposals, but this cannot fall on schools alone. He mentions that a third of excluded pupils are known to children’s social services, so how can we consider this issue without considering the massive cuts? He talks about knife crime, yet safer schools officers and youth workers are being withdrawn as funding for them is squeezed, too.
Too often, our schools have been left to pick up the pieces as services—from mental health provision to social care, from the police to youth services—have been dramatically scaled back, while austerity has hit hardest those least able to cope. This report found that excluded children were more likely to be those already disadvantaged by class, income, and special educational needs and disability, with certain ethnic minority groups at even higher risk. As the Government’s own Social Mobility Commission found last week, in the past few years half a million more children have been growing up in poverty, social mobility has been “stagnant” and inequality has been “deeply entrenched”. The Prime Minister promised that austerity was over. A generation of children cannot afford to keep waiting for that promise to be met.