Disabled children are routinely illegally excluded from school with a devastating impact on their education and mental health, according to new research from Contact a Family.
The charity’s Falling Through The Net survey of over 400 affected families of children with disabilities or additional needs found that:
• More than half (53%) of families have been asked to collect their child during the school day because there are not enough staff available to support them.
• More than half (56%) of families have been told by the school that their child can’t take part in a class activity or trip because it is unsuitable for them.
• Almost a quarter (22%) are illegally excluded every week and 15% every day.
• More than half (53%) of affected disabled children are falling behind with school work and 43% feel depressed because of illegal exclusions.
• Half of parents (50%) are unable to work due to being called to school frequently.
Schools using illegal exclusions bypass official procedures laid out by the Department for Education. Unlike formal exclusions, schools do not have to report this type of exclusion to the local authority. It is not subject to review or external monitoring and can drag on indefinitely.
Srabani Sen, Chief Executive of Contact a Family, says: “Illegal exclusions undermine the government’s intentions set out in the Children and Families Bill of disabled children achieving their full potential.
“Children with additional needs up and down the country are missing out on a good education and the opportunity to form friendships because of illegal exclusions. If non disabled pupils were sent home because there were not enough school staff, there would be uproar. We have to ask why is it happening so regularly when it comes to disabled children and what can be done to tackle it?”
Families with disabled children are often under enormous practical, physical and emotional pressure. If schools use illegal exclusions, families are placed under additional stress. It is easy for pupils to slip through the net and to languish at home with very limited education or none at all. For disabled children who already need more support than their peers, this withdrawal of education can have a devastating impact on their progress and attainment, as well as their confidence, relationships and mental health.
Claire Parkinson from London whose son has Asperger’s says: “It started with the school asking me to bring my son home at lunchtimes every day. I was also asked to collect him 30 minutes before the end of the school day. He was never allowed on school trips and was sent home or put into isolation during Ofsted visits.
“The situation caused problems, work was impossible for me and my son suffered health problems and lost a lot of confidence. He is now at a new school and has only been sent home once for illness. I can’t adjust to the phone NOT ringing and still feel on edge thinking I can’t leave the house until the end of the day just in case the school calls.”
Contact a Family is concerned that local authority cuts could lead to increased numbers of disabled children being illegally excluded from school. As school budgets are stretched further, there could be less support for children with additional needs. The charity is making the following recommendations to improve the situation:
• Where exclusion is necessary, schools must follow statutory procedure to ensure decisions are lawful, reasonable and fair.
• The most frequently illegally excluded pupils with a disability or additional needs are those who have conditions which affect behaviour. Schools should take early action to tackle the underlying cause, and to put in support before a crisis occurs.
• Schools and teachers should work closely with parents to understand a child’s condition or disability and their extra support needs and ensure the child gets the help they need.
• Ofsted has an important role in identifying unlawful practice in the course of an inspection. School should be offered additional support to help them improve their practice. A grading of “inadequate” should be considered if schools continue to illegally exclude children with a disability, SEN or additional need.
Srabani Sen adds: “Parents of disabled children often don’t realise this type of exclusion is unlawful. Our survey was carried out with parent carers who recognised that their child was being illegally excluded. As a result we fear that this is just the tip of the iceberg and many more children with a disability or additional needs are falling through the education net.”
Anyone concerned about any aspect of their disabled child’s education should call Contact a Family’s expert advisers on 0808 808 3555, or check out the Contact a Family website at www.cafamily.org.uk