To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will consider introducing a higher duty of care on head teachers when excluding children aged under 16 from their schools to ensure that such children are in practice met by a parent, guardian or approved carer.
My Lords, the Government have produced statutory guidance which stresses that head teachers must take account of their legal duty of care when sending a pupil home following an exclusion. Head teachers will use their own judgment when sending pupils home, depending on the child’s age, specific needs and ability to understand the situation. The Government believe it is right that such judgments should be made by head teachers.
My Lords, given this Government’s strong commitment to child protection and the support network which we often assume exists for very troubled children when there is no such network, as there may be no real families or functioning parents as we understand them, does my noble friend agree that the Government should revise regulations so as to require head teachers to ensure that they release excluded children to a responsible adult and, where necessary, notify the social services or the troubled families workers?
My noble friend will know that head teachers do not take lightly decisions to exclude pupils. He will also be aware that school staff have an ongoing responsibility for safeguarding pupils, whether at home or at school. Where a head teacher has concerns about the welfare of a pupil, they will be working with a range of local services, such as social services and safeguarding teams or local alternative providers, to make sure that there is a safe environment for them.
We take this issue seriously; that is why we are putting a lot of work and effort at a local level into things such as the troubled families programme to help provide integrated family support. A lot of these families have complex needs, which need integrated support on the ground, and that is how we can help them ensure that their children get the education they deserve.
My Lords, there is extensive research which shows that suspension often makes it worse for the child, the family and indeed the teacher. Suspension and exclusion alone will not solve that child’s problems. Will the Minister consider holding a round-table discussion with the relevant people to look at practices that we could evolve to help children who are suspended and excluded from school?
The most important thing is ensuring that any child who has been excluded or suspended returns to a school where they have a high-quality place, be that in a mainstream school to which they may have been moved or, equally, in an alternative provision setting. That is why we have taken great steps to improve alternative provision, both by improving the governance of existing PRUs and by allowing academies and free schools to open new provision. That is performing well and ensures that these vulnerable young people get the kind of education that will re-engage them.
My Lords, exclusion from school is one of the most reliable predictors of criminality in young people, if they fall outside the provisions that my noble friend has just referred to. What can the Government do to establish a wider net so that fewer people fall through this, predictably, into prison?
As I mentioned, one of the main initiatives is the troubled families programme. It originally helped 116,000 families, but it will be expanded over the course of this Parliament to help up to 400,000 families. Its aim is to bring together local authorities, police, housing, employment advisers, schools, health and children’s social services to deliver integrated, whole-family support. That is what needs to happen to make sure that families do not go through a continuing cycle of deprivation.
My Lords, I would impress upon the Minister that something has to be done. I am often called by parents whose children have been wandering the streets, as when the child is excluded, they are either angry or frustrated and there is often no one to take them home or look after them. Heads of schools should realise that they are in loco parentis and that they ought to ensure the safety of the children. It creates a downward spiral when the adult who is in charge at the time ceases to look after the child in their care. Can the Minister at least try to see how this can be avoided? I spend most of my time reading letters from people whose children have been left wandering, which can cause the prisons to be full of disillusioned children. I would like the Minister’s help with this, and thank the noble Lord for asking the Question.
The noble Baroness is absolutely right. As I said previously, school staff have a duty of care to pupils, whether they are at school or at home. Many head teachers do not exclude people even when they legally could, because they understand the home situation. That is why we are also looking to improve alternative provision and other, more local initiatives around family support, to help make sure that we can help these young people and that they get out of the cycle that they may be in.
My Lords, would the noble Baroness accept that, although the DfE guidelines could be amended—perhaps better to reflect best practice on exclusions currently followed by head teachers—to add a further statutory duty, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Lupton, would not be appropriate given all the other duties added to those of school teachers? It would be neither necessary nor appropriate.
As I have said, head teachers do not take these decisions lightly and they have a duty of care. We believe that the overwhelming majority of schools and head teachers work very well and closely with local services in order to make sure that there is provision to support both these young people and their families, who often have many complex needs and need broad help from local services.