Those who say permanent exclusion is wrong in principle have a problem – this amounts to saying that, no matter how serious their actions may be, every child must remain in their school of choice. This is an impossible proposition for obvious reasons. On the other hand, those who say exclusion is sometimes right are ignoring the plentiful evidence of its damaging consequences for the individual, the serious concerns we have about fairness and equity in this compulsory process, and the crucial question: is there anywhere to exclude them to? The weaknesses of both positions constitute a dilemma for all. There is a third way.
Community-based inclusion means placing the boundary of inclusion around a group of geographically and communally linked places of education including mainstream schools and their differing in-house alternative resources , PRUs, specialist, and alternative agencies and providers. Children can move around this community of educational opportunity but not be excluded from it. The community’s aspiration is to find a place for every child within that community. The ethical and functional values of community-based inclusion are unimpeachable.
The protocol for achieving the inclusion of every child within his or her education community can be summed up in twelve words: Broaden the schools, Build the bridges, and find a place for every child.
“Broaden the schools” means increasing diversity of opportunity within the school boundary – creative flexible resourcing of alternative learning support centres, a fully differentiating curriculum leading to a wider variety of awards and tertiary options, links with college, nurture groups, vocational and work-based learning, and other therapeutic options.
“Build the bridges” means creating a process for managing the movement of children between places of education – hence the development of managed moves.
“Find a place for every child” is an aspirational goal – if every child has a place in the education community where they feel that they belong and which meets their social and learning needs then the community will have achieved an extraordinary goal.
Much of the current debate about the value of managed moves and the prevalence of unofficial and unethical removals of children from schools stems from a misunderstanding of the challenges we face. The issue is primarily one of capacity. If you set a community the task of meeting the needs of all its children, and the community has insufficient capacity to do this, then policies and procedures will be strained to meet the target. Exhaustion, cynicism and expediency will lead to children being unfairly treated. These unethical steps may be unofficial exclusions, badly carried out managed moves, undue pressure on and misleading guidance to parents, and so on. Where the community has developed capacity to meet the diverse needs of all its children these unacceptable practices will reduce.
Having capacity depends on broadening schools (so fewer need to move to more expensive off-site provision) and developing a thriving alternative sector. Inaura the inclusion charity is re-directing its resources to promoting the alternative educations sector by providing online management and governance facilities for very small schools and places of education. We consider that the DfE’s policies are now aligned with the protocol for community-based inclusion, especially the new funding arrangements being piloted.
It’s sad that some commentators adopt a censorious tone in their criticisms of local authority inclusion managers and Headteachers. When relationships between the school and angry, unhappy, or alienated pupils break down, stress levels for staff soar and the pressure to act builds up. Heads contact their authority requesting action, but there’s nowhere for the student to go, or no mechanism for managing the transfer from one setting to another. At crisis point, there’s nowhere to turn whether the school intends to permanently exclude or to ask for a managed move.
Schools should have to nominate, in their formal letter to parents/ carers following permanent exclusion, the alternative place of education the pupil will take up. And schools should have to sign with parents a validating agreement letter before a managed move is carried out. These two steps would help reduce unfairness and concentrate everyone’s mind on the real challenge: creating educational capacity for every child where their needs are met and they can belong.
It only seems like a giant task - in fact more than 98% of children keep their mainstream places. Children excluded from the mainstream are very often happier and ultimately more successful in alternative provision. Permanently excluded children experience a huge sense of rejection. Parents and children find a properly carried out managed move more humane.
As schools take on more control of funds and alternative facilities, managers who focus on increasing capacity and diversity will find themselves with more options and less stress. And they can make their funds go further by collaborating with other schools to share resources cost effectively. It’s a creative time for managers, at least in the alternative sector.