The school’s approach is key to avoiding exclusion of young children

The school’s philosophy, a supportive and stable school environment, and strong relationships between the school and parents are important factors in preventing very young children from being excluded from school, according to a report published today by Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills.

Very few schools exclude children aged under seven, but some do. The report The exclusion from school of children aged four to seven reveals that teaching young children how to behave well and how to get on with each other, coupled with effective management of minor disruptive behaviour were key to reducing or avoiding the use of such exclusions.

Christine Gilbert, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, said: “Exclusion of children aged under seven is still very rare. Ofsted inspectors found that almost all children in the schools they visited knew how to behave properly. Only a small number of children found this difficult but, with proper guidance and support, the need to exclude them can be avoided. As our evidence shows, many schools are skilled at promoting positive behaviour and attitudes in all young children, and giving them a good start to their education. It is important that others can learn from this best practice”.

Inspectors visited 30 schools which had excluded several young children on more than one occasion, 27 neighbouring schools which had not used exclusion during the same period and 12 schools which had excluded only one young child but on several occasions.

Nearly all the schools visited served communities with high levels of deprivation; 39 of the 69 visited were in the highest 20 per cent for pupils’ eligibility for free school meals. These schools faced many challenges. All had children whose families had had high levels of involvement from local authorities’ children’s services regarding child protection, domestic violence and family breakdown. All of them had some young children with complex behaviours that could stop them from taking part in learning. In the best scenarios, these children’s behaviour was managed well, they were given the support they needed and exclusion was avoided. Whether the schools did or did not exclude depended upon whether they believed exclusion was appropriate for young children, their ability to cope with challenging behaviour and sometimes the support received from their local authority.

The 27 schools that had not excluded any young children shared common characteristics also evident in the schools that had managed to significantly reduce their previously high levels of exclusion. The schools were welcoming and children were made to feel valued, there were high expectations of the children and staff went out of their way to provide a model of appropriate behaviour. Exclusion was viewed only as a last resort.

The survey found that relationships with parents were pivotal in preventing or reducing exclusions. Almost all the schools visited worked hard to build positive relationships, particularly with parents whose children were the most challenging to manage.

Use of strategies such as ‘Circle Time’ (weekly meetings where children gather together to talk and develop negotiating, listening and response skills) and ‘Nurture Groups’ (small support groups where children in circumstances that have made them vulnerable are helped to develop their social skills) were also found to be beneficial.

Instability in leadership and staffing was a factor in five of the schools that had had relatively high levels of exclusions among children aged under seven. However, once more permanent staff were in place, the number of exclusions had decreased considerably in all five schools.

In three of the schools visited, exclusions had risen on the appointment of a new headteacher. This was either a short-term strategy to stabilise poor behaviour or, in schools that had previously sent children home unofficially, because the headteacher insisted that the law on exclusion be followed by ensuring that all incidents, regardless of duration, were recorded as formal exclusions.

Among the key recommendations from the report are that schools should minimise the exclusion of young children by developing a range of strategies to manage behaviour, from low-level disruption to challenging behaviour. The DCSF should analyse exclusions data annually on a school by school basis and use the information obtained to question local authorities about the challenge and support they provide for primary schools with high numbers of exclusions.

Notes for Editors

1. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children's social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It rates council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.
2. Media can contact the Ofsted Press Office through 020 7421 6899 or via Ofsted's enquiry line 08456 404040 between 8.30am - 6.30pm Monday - Friday. Out of these hours, during evenings and weekends, the duty press officer can be reached on 07919 057359.
3. The report, The exclusion from school of children aged four to seven, can be found on the Ofsted website
4. The report, The exclusion from school of children aged four to seven, is based on visits by inspectors to two groups of infant or primary schools selected using the most recent information held by the DCSF from 2006/07. Inspectors visited 30 schools which had excluded several young children (often more than once), 27 neighbouring schools which had not used exclusion during the same period, and 12 schools which had excluded only one young child but on several occasions. Inspectors visited 10 local authorities where exclusions from primary schools were at a relatively high level. These authorities were spread across the South, Midlands and North and included both rural and inner-city authorities. Inspectors held discussions with senior officers about the strategies used by the authority to support the schools in managing behaviour effectively and reducing exclusion.