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Exclusions case study: Cambridgeshire

Students and staff on break at TBAP Cambridge Credit: ITV

Every day 40 children are permanently excluded from England's schools. And the number excluded is rising, up three years in a row.

In the East of England the annual number of permanent exclusions is slightly lower than the national average, but still amounted to a total number of 750 children in the last recorded year of 2016/17.

Norfolk and Bedford had the highest rates of permanent exclusions - double the national average - but in Cambridgeshire the number is unusually low, a tenth of the national figure.

Exclusions matter because of the damage it can do to a young person's life chances and education. A high number of prisoners currently serving time in jail - 42 percent - have formerly been permanently excluded.

Ryan Kelsall is the principal of Impington Village College in Cambridgeshire and also chairs a group of 14 heads from the county who meet regularly to discuss students who might be at risk.

Rather than exclude students, the group organise managed moves between schools, to see if a student gets on better in a new environment. If that fails, they turn to alternative provision.

Ryan Kelsall, Principal, Impington Village College Credit: ITV

"We haven't permanently excluded a student from Impington in well over 10 years and across nearly all schools in Cambridgeshire there have been very very few exclusions. The model is to try and keep young people in mainstream education as long as possible and then work alongside the pupil referral units. So it's a referral with the agreement of the student and parents for a different type of education, rather than an exclusion."

– Ryan Kelsall

One of the units which provides that different type of education is TBAP Cambridge, part of the TBAP multi academy trust.The entire Cambridge academy is the size of a mainstream class - just 35 students.

Among them is fourteen year old Levi. He lasted one week at a mainstream secondary school, before being sent here to TBAP Cambridge three years ago.

Levi says before he came here, prison was the only future he could see for himself.

Levi studies at TBAP Cambridge Credit: ITV

"Now I feel like I'm going to go somewhere in life, instead of going to prison. When I first come here I didn't care about anybody, I just wanted to do what I wanted to do. But they changed that for me. They gave me opportunities that I never would have had."

– Levi

The learning style here is very different as most students have problems concentrating. An English class for instance, might be taught as a fast paced game show in order to hold pupils' attention and play into their competitive behaviour.

English teacher Bronson Forshaw says many of his students have had unimaginably difficult lives.

Bronson Forshaw teaches an English class as a quiz Credit: ITV

"The first thing you're taught in alternate provision is that all behaviour is an expression of some sort of unmet need. So this idea in mainstream that a child is acting up - it's very very rare that a child would simply be acting up or being disrespectful for no reason, if you have time you can speak to that learner to find out what the core of the problem is, if you can find out what the problem is, you can solve it. But that takes time."

– Bronson Forshaw

TBAP does not permanently exclude any of its students and even lays on a bus to make sure they all get here. The headteacher Tony Machin said the school's ethos is not about firefighting bad behaviour but changing aspirations.

"We've built a partnership this year with Cambridge University - it's here on our doorstep and a lot of our young people didn't even know there was a university in Cambridge, let alone go to a university so we want to provide them with aspirations. We tell them on a regular basis that they're going to succeed."

– Tony Machin

Success for Levi has been discovering he has a talent for cooking. He now dreams of running a restaurant. He knows many have a negative view of schools like TBAP but says people need to think again.

"If you know how to speak to us and the way that we speak, then we're going to listen. We've all got hearts here, it's not like we're all just going to come up to you and start punching you and stuff. We all care about each other, it's like a big family at this school."

– Levi
Artwork by a student at TBAP Cambridge Credit: ITV

Success for students leaving here is not just about academic results it's about having the skills to cope with life.

Last year 93 percent of students went into education, training or employment and for the two that didn't, the school still provide unpaid mentoring and support.

The headteacher says this support is at the heart of the school's philosophy: that no one should be left behind.

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