Exclusions for drug and alcohol issues at Hertfordshire schools hit record high

A rise in the number of exclusions across England has prompted the creation of a new cross-party group of MPs

Tuesday, 12th January 2021, 12:42 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th January 2021, 12:44 pm

Exclusions for drug and alcohol issues at Hertfordshire's schools have hit a record high, figures reveal.

A rise in the number of exclusions across England has prompted the creation of a new cross-party group of MPs, to reduce avoidable expulsions of vulnerable children.

Department for Education figures show Hertfordshire schools excluded students 367 times for drug and alcohol-related issues in 2018-19 – 14 permanently and 353 temporarily.

The photo has been used for illustration purposes

This was an increase on 260 the year before, and the highest since records began in 2006-07.

The vast majority (350) of exclusions occurred in state-funded secondary schools, but there were 17 in special schools and none in primary schools.

A spokesperson for Hertfordshire County Council said: “The wellbeing and education of young people is of paramount importance to the county council.

"While there has been a general rise in exclusions across the UK over the last two years, Hertfordshire still retains one of the lowest exclusion rates in comparison with other local authorities throughout the country.

“We work closely with our school leaders to try to prevent exclusions from school, and in most instances, exclusion continues to be a last resort after a range of strategies have failed to improve a pupil’s behaviour.

"We will continue to focus on early intervention so we can support schools and families in addressing any underlying issues for their children.”

The figures in Hertfordshire were among a record 12,180 drug and alcohol-related exclusions across England – an increase of 17% on the year before.

The National Association for Children of Alcoholics said the statistics were "worrying", and unless the underlying causes were addressed the number excluded may continue to rise.

Dr Piers Henriques, head of communications at the charity, said: "So often, for young people, substance misuse occurs as a coping mechanism for wider challenges, such as mental health problems or family discord.

"School exclusion will be justified in individual cases.

"However, it is only with improved support and inclusion for young people with hard lives that we will begin to see these numbers fall.

"We need better, earlier interventions in schools that seek to support rather than bluntly punish these young people."

The total number of exclusions nationwide also increased between 2017-18 and 2018-19, from 419,000 to 446,000, prompting the formation of an all-party parliamentary group on exclusions in recent months.

The Centre for Social Justice, which will act as secretariat for the group, said the future looks "desperately bleak" for many children forced out of school.

James Scales, head of education at the CSJ, said: "Just 4% of pupils who sit their GCSEs in alternative providers get a standard pass in English and maths.

"By bringing together cross-party voices and sector leaders, this new parliamentary group gives us a chance to put that right – both by acting earlier to reduce avoidable exclusions and by being more ambitious for excluded pupils."

There were 8,089 total exclusions in Hertfordshire in 2018-19, an increase of 4% on the year before, when there were 7,782.

A DfE spokesman said: “We are clear that expulsion should only be used as a last resort, and should not mean exclusion from high quality education or support.

“We will always back headteachers to use expulsion when required as part of creating calm and disciplined classrooms, which bring out the best in every pupil."