Contributed by Jane Houston, Office of the Children’s Commissioner Wales
In 2018 a parent called the office of the Children’s Commissioner for Wales about their six-year-old child, who had been excluded from school for physically aggressive behaviour. At the point of the call the child was not accessing any education, and there was a dispute between the school and local authority about whether it was appropriate for the child to return to the school.
This call to the Commissioner’s Investigation and Advice Service was not an isolated case. There had been an increase in similar calls over 2018-19 from worried, sometimes desperate, families about children aged 8 and under. These young children were experiencing exclusions or being taught in isolation from a very young age. Some were receiving no education at all.
Whilst the Commissioner’s team could intervene and support these individual children, the rise in casework of this nature suggested this could be a more widespread problem. Consequently, the team undertook an investigation of exclusion in Foundation Phase education (ages 3-7) across Wales.
Building Blocks: Inclusion in the Foundation Phase sets out the findings of this research, and reveals 768 reported incidences of exclusion relating to Foundation Phase children in 2018-9. The true figure is likely to be higher as data was not made available by all local authorities.
Investigations also revealed that on average nine Foundation Phase children per authority had been excluded more than once, with one child having been excluded 18 times in a one year period.
As detailed in the report, change is needed beyond education settings. The issues some children face are not simply about the classroom or the school. A child’s family and community may face a wide range of challenges, and there needs to be action to prevent poverty and to ensure suitable housing. Families need advice and networks to support parenting and they need ready access to health expertise, in particular around neurodevelopmental services.
The Commissioner will continue to call for progress against the recommendations of the report when a new Government is elected in Wales this May.
We know that in schools in Wales professionals work tirelessly to develop the provision needed for children: repurposing spaces in the school for nurture; developing whole school approaches to well-being; and drawing on regional and local approaches to ensure practice is trauma-informed, autism friendly and enables children’s rights. Teachers are rightly giving this work high priority as they support children whose lives have been so disrupted by the pandemic.
To assist this work, the Commissioner has developed a practical toolkit, with expertise from Gwent Psychology Community Team. This draws on approaches from across Wales to set out a children’s rights framework to inclusive practice. Importantly, the language of this framework is positive and affirmative. This is not a deficit model. It is an approach that can support each and every child to access the human rights to which they are entitled, and to develop their talents and skills to the full.