This post is dedicated to the memory of Tessa Jowell, who died on Friday. She has been lauded as the Minister who drove forward the UK’s bid to host the 2012 Olympics. But arguably, her greatest legacy was the introduction of the Sure Start programme. This was a valued and evidence-based programme to help disadvantaged children in their early years development. Sadly, this programme had been decimated by Osborne’s ill-conceived austerity policy.
I was speaking to a head teacher I know well recently. He told me that, sadly, he has had to make the first exclusions from his school this year, after previously succeeding for many years to avoid this. He made a direct link between curriculum changes and exclusions – a link I had not previously made myself.
I understand that exclusions are up considerably in other local schools, too.
As a Chair of Governors myself, I am only too aware of the effects of cuts to school budgets: difficult decisions have to be made. With the lion’s share of the budget going in salaries, this inevitably means fewer staff. With statutory requirements around class sizes, it is the support staff who tend to get reduced in number. This makes it more difficult to keep “hard to handle” pupils in mainstream school provision.
The vicious 40% cuts to Local Government budgets from central government have also severely reduced the capacity of second-line support to these vulnerable pupils. A double whammy.
The head reminded me – it’s a secondary school – that they are now seeing children who were unable to take up Sure Start schemes owing to the squeeze on LA budgets, when much of the Sure Start programme was cut back. Much of what Sure Start was about was to enable children from disadvantaged backgrounds catch up in their development with their middle-class peers, so they didn’t have to play catch-up during their school years. Prevention is always better – and cheaper – than cure.
One obvious effect of swingeing LA budget cuts is the decimation of Youth Services. It does not take a genius to work out that, if there is less for kids to do out of school, the temptation to get into trouble is correspondingly greater. Obvious, really.
The one bit I hadn’t twigged was the connection between Gove’s curriculum changes and the rise in exclusions. It all stems from the higher status afforded to academic subjects by the English. The pressure on all 16 year olds to take subjects from the EBacc list narrows the curriculum choices – in particular, away from vocational subjects. These academic subjects are often less suited to children with learning and behaviour issues and further reduces their self-esteem. This, in turn, encourages poor behaviour and the risk of exclusion.
So, in summary, higher exclusion rates follow directly from a toxic cocktail of Tory policy changes (i.e. curriculum changes and budget cuts).
Meanwhile, the Government announces it will waste £50m on “expanding” grammar schools – an evidence-free Theresa May vanity project which solves nothing, a subject I first raised back in 2015.