Teenagers with special-educational needs are being “cynically” excluded from schools and put in danger of being groomed by gangs, because there’s not enough money to support them.
That’s the claim made by education consultant and former head teacher Tony Meehan, who says schools increasingly feel “tempted” to expel children who bring down results.
He says they are also doing it because children’s needs and disabilities are expensive to diagnose and accommodate.
And it has coincided with a rising number of permanent exclusions from West London schools.
Westminster Council has revealed 24 children were permanently excluded from schools in the borough in 2018/19. That compares with 29 children in the previous year, but only 11 in 2016/17.
The borough of Kensington and Chelsea has seen a similar spike. 18 children were kicked out of secondary schools in 2017/18. While in 2012/13 there were none.
In Hammersmith and Fulham, the special education needs funding is set to be £18 million this year. In 2017/18 the borough had 25 permanent exclusions from secondary schools compared to just five in 2012/13.
The picture across London and the rest of the country tells a similar story.
“The funding issue has meant exclusions have gone up,” said Mr Meehan, who was the senior leader of Latimer Alternative Provision Academy in North Kensington until 2017.
“In those exclusions there’s pupils with special needs – some diagnosed, and some undiagnosed.
“Schools are finding it difficult to assess the needs of their pupils, because it’s expensive, and even more expensive to provide the care they need.
“Their behaviour can be down to an out-an-out inability to cope rather than because they are thugs.”
The nature of children’s special educational needs can range from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to the behavioural side-effects of emotional trauma.
It takes an educational psychologist to diagnose a child, and the Educational Health Care Plan they prescribe, such as finding a dedicated helper, can be costly.
Mr Meehan said, in his experience: “some exclusions are done cynically. And I think some teachers admit that off the record.
“[Because] the chance of getting an EHCP is getting smaller.
“So then these children become a potential for affecting results and small margins.”
As the head of an alternative provision school, Mr Meehan’s job was to provide education and stability for children who are excluded from normal secondary schools.
One of the most common reasons for exclusion, he said, was “persistent disruptive behaviour”. Which he called a “vague, catch-all” term.
“There’s a sense then, that something might happen that will be a final straw that will see them be excluded.”
He added: “In my opinion, academy schools have less accountability. And there’s evidence that they will feel tempted to exclude pupils more than schools that are run by a local authority.”
Gang activity is something Mr Meehan’s school had to “deal with” during his nine years as head.
“I have witnessed a rise in gang activity over the years and it’s something we have dealt with and managed. I think we have to recognise it’s happening because these are young people.”
He also said there is a “clear correlation” between exclusions and the risk of joining gangs. But added: “I don’t know if anyone can say there is definitely a causal effect of knife crime going up.”
This week, Westminster Council was told about the complexity of school exclusions by another head teacher, Wasim Butt, of Beachcroft AP Academy in St John’s Wood.
At a town hall meeting on Monday (September 16), Mr Butt said: “Exclusions are very complex. It’s not as simple as therapeutic support or one to one support. We’re talking about everything under the sun. Gang warfare, county lines, children carrying knives, guns and drugs. We’re talking about trauma.
“This is poverty and access to youth services. It’s a complex situation.
“However these are normal children, but it’s down to the relationships that they have with their families and services that support them. But it’s really complex and it’s really hard.”
In May this year, the Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield OBE reported that children are “seven times more likely to have a special educational need and 10 times more likely to suffer recognised mental health problems”.
By LDRS Reporter Owen Sheppard