Train teachers on exclusion to spread best practice, think-tank urges

By Tristan Donovan

| 10 October 2017

The best teachers need to be encouraged to work in pupil referral units in order to give the most vulnerable children a good education and create new benchmarks for working with children at risk of exclusion, a think-tank has said.

The IPPR wants leading teachers to work in alternative provision schools on two-year contracts. Picture: IPPR

A report by the Institute for Public Policy Research - called Making the Difference - argues that a career development programme that gives school leaders the skills needed to support pupils who have been or are in danger of exclusion could help thousands of vulnerable young people and save the state billions.

The proposed programme would recruit teachers with some leadership experience and place them in leadership positions within "good" or "outstanding" rated alternative provision schools on two-year contracts.

During their two-year placement they would undertake training about how best to re-engage excluded pupils and help them address challenges such as mental health needs and poor literacy and numeracy.

After completing their placement, the programme would help them return to a leadership role in a mainstream school.

The IPPR said the programme would help address the shortage of teachers with frontline experience in alternative provision and spread knowledge about how to prevent exclusions in mainstream schools.

The report proposes that the programme should be run by The Difference, an offshoot of the IPPR that the think-tank hopes to develop into a standalone charity. The Difference would require external funding to deliver the proposed teacher training programme.

In its report the IPPR noted how young people in alternative provision are twice as likely to be taught by unqualified teachers as in mainstream schools and how the permanent exclusions have risen by 40 per cent in the last three years.

The report also estimates that the lifetime cost to taxpayers of a year's worth of permanent exclusions is around £2.1bn due to children being more likely to claim benefits, earn less, develop severe mental health problems or end up in prison.

"By not addressing their challenges when they first appear, we are brewing trouble for later," said Kiran Gill, IPPR associate fellow and founder of The Difference.

"We want to raise the status of working with the most vulnerable children. The Difference will connect exceptional teachers to the most challenging and rewarding jobs.

"By drawing together best practice from education, psychology, social work and criminal justice, we will start to develop an evidence-based approach to breaking the link between school exclusion and social exclusion."

Edward Timpson, who was children's minister until losing his parliamentary seat in June's general election, has given his backing to the proposal.

"The educational underperformance of children who are multiply vulnerable is a complex challenge," he said. 

"Yet this is also where stakes are highest and where successful innovations can truly change lives. That is why I am pleased to support The Difference, which seeks to raise the status of and evidence-base for teaching the most vulnerable learners and to improve capacity for collaboration between schools and other agencies so troubled young people get the right support at the right time."

However, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said a dedicated teacher training programme could only be part of the wider solution needed to reduce exclusions.

"Investment for training for teachers in pupil referral units could be constructive but we're ignoring decades of evidence about how multi-agency teams are needed to reduce exclusions long term," he said.

"Supporting children and young people at risk of exclusion needs a magic mix - the right curriculum offer, flexibly applied, pastoral support and specialist expertise from other agencies, often with intensive support for the child's family.

"There isn't a magic bullet but there is one sea change needed: substituting competition for collaboration as the principle on which our system rests."

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