DfE-Inclusion & the academisation of English secondary schools: trends in the placement of pupils with significant SEN & those permanently excluded

This project aims to analyse a national dataset (the National Pupil Database) about pupils and schools to explore the routes some vulnerable pupils take through secondary schools. We are interested in comparing trends over time (2003-2015) with a focus on:

  • pupils with SEN that enter at year 7 and exit during later years
  • all pupils permanently excluded from secondary schools.

Over the past 30 years consecutive UK governments have had 2 main policy initiatives regarding schooling in England.  Raising academic standards has been the focus of the first initiative, leading to an assessment-led national curriculum; national testing and comparison of results; and developing a more market-orientated model of schooling. This reflected a wider development in public service policy, to replace some state provision by more diversity and autonomy of provision and more user choice. Academies were created by the Labour government to respond to the issues of persistently 'failing' schools. The Conservative/Lib Dem coalition built on this to introduce academies and free schools on a much larger scale.  A lesser though nevertheless important trend was providing for more pupils with special educational needs (SEN) in ordinary rather than special schools and building capacity in ordinary schools to provide for these pupils - what has been called the inclusive education movement. However, the most recent legislation relating to pupils with SEN reinforces the choice and diversity model in emphasising more parental choice and offering more diversity of provision, for example more special schools established through the free school policy initiative.  There are now a range of school types, each with a different level of autonomy. Converter Academies (the most autonomous of the types) had the lowest percentage of pupils with significant SEN, the sponsored Academies (required to convert, governed by outside sponsor) had the highest percentage with significant SEN, while maintained schools (remaining as local authority schools) had percentages between these levels.

We think the policy of secondary schools changing into academies and a focus on raising standards in school may have changed the patterns over time of vulnerable pupils (those with SEN as well as those who experience permanent exclusions) in ordinary schools. The specific aim of our project is to examine whether greater school autonomy and diversity is related to lower placements in ordinary secondary schools and thus greater separate special school and alternative provision placements.

Objective 1: to analyse secondary data from the NPD at a pupil, school and local authority (LA) level, regarding pupils that enter and exit mainstream secondary schools.

Objective 2: to explore the typical educational routes of children with SEN over time since pupil level data was collected. To find out if there is any variation in educational routes by different areas of SEN.

Objective 3: to examine whether greater school autonomy and diversity is related to lower placements in ordinary secondary schools and thus greater separate special school and alternative provision placements.

Objective 4: to examine variations in the educational trajectories of vulnerable pupils at a LA level associated with the extent of acadamisation at a LA level. If there are differences we will examine the characteristics of the LAs that may influence the variations.

By identifying routes from mainstream schools to special schools/alternative provision we hope to identify some factors that explain significant divergence from typical routes through school. This is to enable us to understand pupil, school and LA factors that influence the educational experiences of vulnerable pupils. The project will support original evidence informed policy making and will act as a model of the kind of research that can and needs to be done internationally in the context ofinternational moves towards greater inclusive education.

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