THE city may have the highest rate of permanent exclusions in the whole of Wales, but Newport's schools are working to keep as many children in education as possible, as EMMA MACKINTOSH reports.
LAST month the Argus revealed that Newport’s rate of permanent school exclusions was more than double that of the Welsh national average last year and the highest in Wales, despite a national downward trend over the last decade.
The figure makes for grim reading, exacerbated by the fact that no data was published for Torfaen, Blaenau Gwent or Monmouthshire last year, as well as other large South Wales authorities like Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil, the Vale of Glamorgan and Swansea, where the figure was five pupils or fewer.
Of Newport’s maintained secondary schools there were 14 permanent exclusions last year, a rate of 1.3 permanent exclusions per 1,000 pupils, compared to a rate of 0.5 across Wales.
Boys made up more than three-quarters of all exclusions in 2012/13, but that figure is the lowest in a decade, and most excluded pupils were in Year 10.
Not all excluded children are permanently excluded: some may only be sent out of school for a few days.
A permanent exclusion is when a pupil is excluded and their name is removed from the school register, before they go to be educated at another school or some other form of provision, whereas a fixed-term exclusion involves a pupil being excluded for a short time but remaining on the register as they are expected to return.
Other options include a managed move, whereby parents of pupils in danger of exclusion agree with schools and councils that it is in the best interests of their child that they change schools.
In reality, exclusion is a last resort for many schools who develop entire units on site to try as far as possible to keep children in education, in line with Welsh Government policy that all children and young people should have access to “an appropriate education that affords them the opportunity to achieve their personal potential”.
According to guidance issued to Welsh schools in 2012, the decision to exclude a pupil should only be taken in response to “serious” breaches of the school’s behaviour policy and if allowing the pupil to remain in school would “seriously harm the education or welfare of the learner or others in the school”.
At St Julian’s School in Newport a team of around eight to ten staff runs what is known as their inclusion unit, which has helped around 200 pupils since 2007, many of whom would have needed “intense support” to leave school with a qualification, explained assistant head teacher Ian Cole.
In a school of 1,650 pupils, each year the children who go to the inclusion unit represent just 2 or 3 per cent of the total number, but their impact on the school community can be “significant,” said Mr Cole.
“The more included they feel, the greater the learning opportunities for all is achieved,” he said.
The unit, which works one to one or in small groups with pupils to make sure they do not leave school without a qualification, does not operate in isolation and is overseen by an inclusion panel.
The panel of around 15 members meets at 8am every Friday morning and has representatives from within the school such as attendance, heads of house and learning support, as well as the youth service and the police.
The work done with each pupil, by necessity, is detailed and the team tracks each child’s academic progress, as well as other factors like their attendance and punctuality.
If there are any potential problems or trends, the team can intervene and encourage students to stay in school.
Although students are taught in a separate section of the school, the aim is to reintegrate them with the school at a future date, and former pupils who successfully get through the system come back to talk to those currently at risk of exclusion.
Head teacher Denise Richards explained that all schools have some students who, for some reason, are not engaging with the educational process.
But by setting up an inclusion team and focusing on individual pupils, every student at risk of exclusion at St Julian’s has left the school with some type of qualification.
So despite the connotions of the word “exclusion”, with such a large pupil base in Newport work is being done to switch the focus to “inclusion”.