Exclusion Illusion and Confusion

The figures for school exclusion in England during the year 2018/19 were recently released by the DfES at the start of the Sept 2020 term.

The figures show that Permanent exclusions were at 7,894 whilst fixed-term exclusions were at 7,894.

This equates to a 36% increase over the last 4 years in terms of Permanent Exclusions and a 44% increase for fixed-term exclusions over the same period.

Of these 7,894 students who were permanently excluded in 2018/19, 35% are said to exhibit Persistent Disruptive Behaviour or PDB, up from 34% in 2017/18.  PDB is also the main cause of the 438,300 fixed-term exclusions in 2018/19 as in 31% of all fixed-term cases, up from 30% in 2017/18.

As we aware Exclusion from school may be a process that is necessary on some occasions, particularly in terms of the health and safety of individuals, damage to property, and/or serious infringement of school rules and procedures.

However, PDB, the main term that is used in the exclusion process has no standardized definition that appears to have been agreed upon. It is used to cover a spectrum of behaviours, from calling-out in class, annoying/distracting other students, and general attention-seeking.

Permanent exclusions for PDB do not occur as a one-off incident as in other cases such as an assault on a member of staff or issues regarding drugs or weapons. They happen as a culmination of a number of days of fixed-term exclusions which would need to reach 45 days in any one academic year.

Fixed-term exclusions are usually between 1 to 5 days therefore for someone to be permanently excluded for PDB they would have to have multiple fixed-term exclusions for PDB.

In terms of attitude and policy regarding exclusion in the last 4 years, there have been changes with regards to the advised responses to behaviours that fit within the PDB spectrum. This would include Zero tolerance approaches with regards to low-level disruption and failure to follow school policies and procedures. The mantra of “the few not disrupting the many” and “to sweat the small stuff” by the present Behaviour Tsar appears to have received the backing of Government Ministers.

This has succeeded the “Every Child Matters” inclusive approach of preceding years regarding low-level disruptive behaviour within the PDB spectrum which had seen exclusions reduced dramatically in both Permanent and Fixed-term categories.

As mentioned above Exclusion has its place in terms of supporting and managing school communities especially in serious events however why would you continue to repeat the process over and over again in low-level cases if nothing comes of it.

It is clear that the time has come to review the process of fixed-term Exclusions for PDB and consider 3 main principles.

  1. What exactly does the term PDB actually mean?
  2. Why do schools continue to issue multiple fixed-term exclusions for PDB when this approach does not change the outcome and what could be done differently?
  3. What could be done to help teachers and schools to support students who exhibit PDB characteristics?

If you do the same thing time and time again you will usually get the same result.

It’s time to change our philosophy and our practice regarding the continuous fixed-term exclusions for PDB.