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Criminal gangs target excluded children

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The number of exclusions in England has been on an upward trajectory since 2013-14. The latest figures published by the government show there was an increase from 6,685 in 2015-16 to 7,720 in 2016-17.

Most of these children are sent to pupil referral units, which have been identified by the NCA as being targeted by criminal gangs for recruitment.

Many PRUs, which are funded through the dedicated schools grant, have become academies so do not register in council outturn spending.

Despite the upward trend in exclusions, government figures suggest a 2% drop in net spending by councils which registered allocated funding on PRUs every year between 2015-16 and 2017-18.

Dawn Roberts, assistant director, early help, family support and youth justice at the Birmingham Children’s Trust, said while the trust does not have responsibility for education, the aim is to reduce exclusions, with an ambition to see PRU staff spending more time in mainstream schools working on prevention.

She cited one example of a child deliberately getting himself excluded in order to get allocated to a PRU so he could recruit more pupils into selling drugs.

“In people’s minds it is about how do you extend your reach if you are under pressure to also sell,” Ms Roberts added.

She said the trust was also trying to use Troubled Families funding to encourage schools to intervene with pupils at an early stage through the programme’s payment by results mechanism.

“If [the Troubled Families programme) wasn’t replaced with something that targeted these vulnerable children and families then we would be seeing more need going unmet in the city [and] more coming into the care and criminal justice system,” Ms Roberts said.

Heather Sandy, chief officer for education at Lincolnshire CC, said evidence suggests more young people are coming into the county and being arrested for offences such as drug supply than young people living there going out.

But she said young people in Lincolnshire are as vulnerable as those elsewhere, with exclusions a key risk.

Focus in this area has seen exclusions reduced by 40% in the last two years though working closely with schools to implement the ‘Inclusive Lincolnshire’ strategy.

“What that says is all headteachers need to be consistently applying the inclusion framework, so it is not OK for one headteacher to exclude for something fairly trivial and another teacher to put thousands of pounds worth of pastoral support and preventative work in with young people,” Ms Sandy said.

As a result, all Lincolnshire headteachers have agreed a minimum standard of intervention that they will fund at a school before they access shared resources.

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