Kicked out: Concerns raised about permanent exclusions at Wellingborough secondary
Weavers Academy has been accused of an 'aggressive' attitude towards student exclusion
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Concerns have been raised about the number of pupils who are being permanently excluded from a secondary school in one of the county’s ‘left behind’ communities.
Weavers Academy on the Queensway estate in Wellingborough has been permanently excluding on average six pupils each academic year for the past five years, and some years the numbers of students told to leave the school has risen to eight.
The issue has come to light after a freedom of information request to the school from Queensway councillor King Lawal, who decided to investigate what was going on at the estate’s secondary after noticing multiple secondary school-aged children out in the Brickhill and Queensway ward during school hours.
The data shows that the secondary, which is part of the Creative Education Trust, has on average been making 89 non permanent exclusions each year for the past five academic years. In the 2017/18 and 2018/19 academic years eight students were permanently excluded.
To put Weavers permanent exclusions into context, there are 31 secondary schools in North Northamptonshire and the current target rate for exclusions across the whole of the area is 35. If each of the 31 schools excluded the same number annually as the Weavers Academy, the permanent exclusion rate for North Northamptonshire would be 186.
A government review into school exclusions in 2018, the Timpson report, found evidence that children who have a history of either fixed period or permanent exclusion from school are more likely to be both victims and perpetrators of crime.
Cllr Lawal brought the Weavers Academy issue into the public domain at the last meeting of North Northamptonshire Council’s Levelling Up working group which was having a focus on the issue of school exclusions.
He told the Levelling Up group he had met with the academy’s senior leadership team the day before and found the school ‘had a particular view of exclusions which was quite alarming.’ He also said he had concerns about the pastoral support provided to students and that the school had an ‘aggressive’ attitude towards suspensions - this is when a student is removed from the school for a few days due to poor behaviour.
According to information provided to Cllr Lawal from the Academy, in the most recent academic year (2020/21) it made 106 non permanent exclusions, 55 of which were repeat suspensions. 34 per cent of pupils who were suspended were girls.
Students who are permanently excluded may be accepted by another secondary school, but can often go into a pupil referral unit, which may be many miles from their home.
Rev Ben Lewis from St Mark’s Church on the Queensway estate echoed the concerns of the councillor about the exclusions being practiced by the estate’s secondary school.
Queensway is one of the five areas in the county and one of 225 in the country officially recognised by the government as being ‘left behind’. This means the areas have higher deprivation coupled with less community infrastructure.
Rev Lewis said:
“The reality is that exclusions exacerbate the social problems. If mum struggles to send the boy to school two minutes down the road, how is she going to get him on a bus to Northampton? They (the excluded students) are there to be picked up by gangs who can offer them cash and role models.
“Some of these children are good kids. They end up having a scrap in the playground and they are excluded - which is just madness.”
He said pupil referral units used to be based in the school, so the excluded student remained in the community, and with their friendship groups, but now the units are separate and dispersed around the county.
Speaking to NN Journal, Cllr Lawal said it appeared the school was removing some young people in order to make the environment better for other students.
“We don’t know what else is going on with these kids. There needs to be an element of tolerance before they kick them out.”
Weavers Academy, is led by Headteacher Vivien Swaida, who joined the school in 2015, when it was rated as ‘requires improvement’. In 2017 it was inspected by Ofsted who said ‘Through her determined leadership, the headteacher has brought about significant improvement to the school’s provision in a short period.”
The report said the number of excluded pupils was in line with the national average and repeat exclusions were low.
NN Journal contacted the school regarding Cllr Lawal’s concerns and it issued a statement which said:
“Weavers Academy values the support of its ward councillors. We recently had a productive meeting around the ‘Levelling-Up’ project, and we addressed wider community issues such as anti-social behaviour and knife crime.
The school has a consistent and fair approach to exclusions, which are a sanction of last resort, aimed at reducing learning disruption for all. In respect of the councillor’s claims, it is not possible to make a fair comparison against other schools in different parts of the county.
Our pastoral care for students is exemplary and we simply cannot reconcile the councillor’s comments. We have seven pastoral managers, three safeguarding officers, a full-time designated safeguarding lead, four behaviour key workers, two full-time attendance officers and an assistant principal, dedicated to attendance.”
We are running a year-long project, called Levelling Up, which is reporting the issues and concerns in the five small communities of Northamptonshire which are officially recognised as left behind.
You can read articles from the series here
This Wednesday we are holding an online hustings ahead of the Oundle unitary by election on Thursday, February 17.
The Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens are all fielding a candidate and if you live in the area and wish to ask them a question, please email Sarah Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org
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