Scottish education system is more caring than in England report claims

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Schools with ‘nurture rooms’, including those in Glasgow, are being praised for a fall in rates of exclusions amid claims the Scottish education system is more caring than in England.

In 2020/21, only one child was excluded from school and sent somewhere else to learn - known as being ‘removed from the register’, attributable in part to the school closures and home learning caused by the pandemic.

Some 8,322 temporary exclusions were carried out over the same time frame, and the rate is now 11.9 per 1,000 pupils, with the majority vastly male.

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Numbers have decreased drastically, with three pupils “removed from the register” in 2018/19, and 15,000 temporary exclusions carried out in the same time frame.

In 2010/11, the rate of temporary exclusion was 39.9 per 1,000 pupils, totalling 26,784, while 60 pupils were barred from their schools.

Decreases between 2018/19 and 2020/21 were partly attributable to kids spending less time in school due to the pandemic.

Schools with ‘nurture rooms’ are being praised for a fall in rates of exclusions. Picture: ShutterstockSchools with ‘nurture rooms’ are being praised for a fall in rates of exclusions. Picture: Shutterstock
Schools with ‘nurture rooms’ are being praised for a fall in rates of exclusions. Picture: Shutterstock | Shutterstock

Schools in England recorded 5,057 permanent exclusions and 310,733 suspensions in 2019/20 - however the school population down south is 8.9 million pupils, compared to 792,000 in Scotland.

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Experts say the trend in Scotland is due to a range of factors, including enhanced teacher understanding of trauma and mental health, robustly maintained professional standards, and collaborative policy-making.

Recent years have also seen new approaches developed for tackling difficult or aggressive pupil behaviour.

Glasgow City Council moved away from pupil referral units, instead creating “enhanced nurture” facilities that are located onsite in mainstream schools.

Exclusion is used only in extreme circumstances, with teachers given specialist training so they are better able to assist distressed children and young people and has been recognised around the UK for its approach.

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Professor Gillean McCluskey, co-director of research and the research excellence framework co-ordinator at Edinburgh University’s Moray House School of Education and Sport, said similar initiatives could be found across Scotland.

She said: “Most schools will talk about the importance of nurturing principles. When I talk to my English colleagues about that there’s a blank look.”

But, while acknowledging “huge success” in reducing the national figures, she warned the trend was not equally distributed.

The exclusion rate for those with ASN due to factors such as autism, experience of trauma or abuse, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder was 25.5 per 1,000 pupils in 2020/21.

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This was almost five times that recorded for kids without such needs.

Statistics also show the rate among those living in the 20 per cent of areas associated with most deprivation was 18.8 - nearly four times that recorded for those in the least deprived areas.

Male pupils were more than three times as likely to be removed from school that females, with a rate of 18.2 per 1,000.

Prof McCluskey, who is also involved in Excluded Lives, a UK-wide project, said poor levels of resourcing and support were increasing the risk of unmet needs producing behaviour which might lead to an exclusion.

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She added: “It’s one of the things that concerns me most - that we’ve managed to reduce these exclusions dramatically, and with huge success over the last 10 years.

“But the patterns of inequality are exactly the same. Schools don’t feel like they can do the job that they want to do, and we know, for instance, the things that teachers will say again and again, particularly around mental health, is that getting access to support is just so difficult.

“So, the partner agencies - I’m not blaming them, I’m saying they’re also under-resourced, mental health in particular is a really big issue, but social work as well - all these are under resourced, under-recruiting.

“They’re recruiting poorly, they’re not retaining staff. There are big issues in the ways in which we can do what we can within education. So the supports aren’t there.”

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A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Our national policy makes it clear that exclusion from school should always be a last resort and that there is a need to consider the individual circumstances of certain groups of children.

“These include those with a disability, looked after children and young people, children and young people from the most deprived areas and those with additional support needs, particularly if those additional support needs are social, emotional or behavioural.”

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