Revealed: Suffolk top national rankings for primary school suspensions

It has been revealed that Suffolk has the highest primary school suspension rates in England. Children with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and from poorer backgrounds are disproportionately affected.

New figures covering the 2019/20 school year shows that the suspension rates for Suffolk primary schools was 2.2%. This is the equivalent to one suspension for every 50 primary school pupils. No other local authority in England has a primary school suspension rate this high.

It was also found that there were 50 suspensions given to four-year-olds. Boys were found to be around three times as likely to receive an exclusion than their female counterparts. This is both in terms of permanent exclusions and suspensions.

Suspension versus permanent exclusion

A ‘suspension’ is when a pupil is temporarily excluded from school for a set period of time. Suspension rates – previously known as fixed-term exclusion rates – are the number of suspensions in a school population. Permanent exclusion rates (referring to a pupil who is given a lasting expulsion from a school and will not return) are calculated in the same way.

Children with Special Education Needs and Disabilities disproportionately affected

The 2019/20 figures show that there continues to be a disproportionate impact on children with SEND. 101 children received a permanent exclusion in Suffolk, 46 of whom have SEND. During this period there were 4,268 suspensions. Nearly half of them – 2,034 – were given to children with SEND.

The numbers highlight a concerning, long-term trend. If a child has SEND, they are five times more likely to be permanently excluded. Suspensions are around six times more likely.

The graph below shows that children with SEND who have an Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP) are the worst affected of all.

Suffolk SEND exclusion crisis
Suffolk SEND suspension rates

Kids from poorer backgrounds hit too

Children from poorer backgrounds were also more likely to be affected. Almost half – 42 out of 101 – of all children in Suffolk to receive an expulsion were eligible for Free School Meals (FSMs). These children were four times as likely to receive a permanent exclusion than their peers who were ineligible.

The picture across the East

Across the East of England there were 544 permanent exclusions, with an additional 32,056 suspensions.

Overall, permanent and fixed-term exclusions numbers in 2019/20 fell from the previous year. However, the academic year was severely interrupted by school closures due to covid.

Not a one-off

This issue has not occured overnight. For each of the last five years (2015/16 – 2019/20) Suffolk’s primary school suspension rates have been ranked in the top three of England. The last time Suffolk ranked outside of the top ten was in 2013/14.

While these numbers are significant, they only tell half the story. There are instances of ‘informal’ exclusions, ‘off-rolling’ and parents feeling forced to home-educate their children.

In August 2019, the administration at Suffolk County Council dismissed concerns around the figures as ‘scaremongering’. However, the local authority finally committed to a ‘review’ in October 2019 saying they now took the issue ‘very seriously’. A year on, and the ‘review’ has yet to be published.

Why it matters

There is clearly a disproportional impact of permanent exclusions and suspensions on children who may already have barriers to learning and challenges in other aspects of their life.

The 2019 Timpson Review of School Exclusion said: ‘New analysis of those reaching the end of Key Stage 4 in 2015/16 shows just 7% of children who were permanently excluded and 18% of children who received multiple fixed period exclusions went on to achieve good passes in English and Maths GCSEs, qualifications that are essential to succeeding in adult life.’

The circumstances that lead to a permanent exclusion or suspension can be complex. The decision to exclude should only ever be used as a last resort. Nevertheless, it is difficult to conclude that this is always the case. Suffolk has had some of the highest primary school suspension rates in England for over half a decade.

Unless there is swift, holistic and decisive action taken, Suffolk’s exclusion crisis will continue.

This article is an abridged version of the long-read: ‘Suffolk’s exclusion crisis’. Read the full piece here.

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