Speaking at the National Children and Adult Services Conference in Bournemouth, ADCS president Rachel Dickinson said: “It’s time to review head teachers’ powers to exclude pupils unchecked.”
The Department for Education states that “head teachers can exclude a child if they misbehave in or outside school”.
She also called for a crack-down on off-rolling, defined by Ofsted as “the practice of removing a pupil from the school roll without a formal, permanent exclusion or by encouraging a parent to remove their child from the school roll, when the removal is primarily in the interests of the school rather than in the best interests of the pupil.”
“What I sincerely hope we are moving towards, albeit in painfully slow steps, is a schools system that works for all pupils,” Dickinson added.
"Schools that do not exclude, that do not illegally off-roll pupils. Schools that do not ‘strong-arm’ parents to home educate; schools that do not seek to engineer their intake before pupils are even on roll; schools that value the richness that comes with educating children with SEND in mainstream settings, not seeking to hive them off to ever more specialist provision, or worse into expensive non-maintained special schools the efficacy of whose offers are to the best of my knowledge anyway, unevidenced.”
She also called on the government for more funding for youth services, investment in young people’s health care and increased support for looked-after children and care leavers.
According to the ADCS’s recent survey on elective home education, 78,800 children were known to be home educated at some point during the 2018/19 academic year – an increase of 14 per cent on the previous year.
Last month, a report by the Education Policy Institute found that 10.1 per cent of children who finished their GCSEs in 2017 experienced exits at some point during their time at secondary school that "cannot be accounted for".
Latest government figures showed that children were permanently expelled on 7,900 occasions in 2017-18, compared to 7,700 in 2016-17 – the largest number of permanent exclusions since 2008-2009.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “School leaders have a duty to make sure they provide a safe environment in which all pupils can learn. Exclusion should always be a last resort, but there are circumstances where it is the only appropriate response. School leaders must retain the autonomy to exclude a violent or dangerous pupil in order to keep everyone else safe.
“To be clear, the practice of off-rolling a pupil to ‘game’ the data is wrong. Not only are school budgets at breaking point, there have also been devastating cuts to police, social services, youth services and health. The interventions necessary to support vulnerable young people are simply disappearing.
“Schools cannot do it alone. We need every part of society to be operating at full efficiency to keep young people safe and successful. Major investment is needed to ensure this is the case.”
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: "The focus needs to be on how to prevent school exclusions and support the young people at risk of exclusion, not on removing the power to exclude.
"The rise in exclusions of young people has occurred over a time of growing poverty and widening inequality, and at a time when all the agencies and family services around schools have been dismantled.
"Previous governments have reduced school exclusion through funding multi-agency holistic teams around at-risk young people and prioiritising national programmes focused on social and emotional skills, but this government blames schools for exclusions while creating the conditions that fuel students’ vulnerability.”
Ofsted and the Department for Education have been contacted for comment.