School exclusions halved since launch of action group to tackle county lines threat

The number of permanent exclusions in schools across Essex have halved since the county council formed an action group to tackle county line drug problems.

Eight recommendations have been made to help tackle the effect of county lines on the life chances of young people – including seeking to minimise school exclusions.

Essex County Council now challenges all permanent exclusions in order to ensure that schools have exhausted all avenues to avoid exclusion. It adds that it has made clear to schools that the rules around exclusions “must be followed”.

As a result of its engagements, there were 55 permanent exclusions last year, as opposed to 92 the year prior.

Council figures suggest a dramatic increase in violent and disruptive behaviour, leading to a subsequent increase in the number of children being suspended or expelled. In turn, it could leave youngsters vulnerable to exploitation from drug gangs using children to transfer narcotics from dealers to users.

The ‘County Line’ is the mobile phone line used to take the orders of drugs.

Given the large numbers of children being removed from school, a county council Task and Finish Group working to tackle the effect of drug gangs, knife crime and county lines has provided a set of recommendations to tackle the problems associated with county lines.

Essex, according to the data, has the highest number of violent incidents linked to county lines across the East of England – with around 135 lines coming into Essex at the time of the Task and Finish Group review.

While it is thought that county line operations are essentially exports from large cities – London in the case of Essex – there is also some evidence to suggest that there are some county line operations coming into Essex across borders other than from the capital.

Increasing prevention and intervention is the most notable recommendation – including that further consideration be given to identifying the gaps in educational provision for young people on the periphery of exclusion. Finding further alternative options to support schools dealing with behavioural problems instead of exclusion and, where a young person has been excluded, that there is resource allocated to facilitate a safe return to formal education.

The recommendations also encourage schools to sign-up to the Inclusion Policy if they have not already done so, and to require schools to clearly demonstrate which steps they took before escalating the intervention to an exclusion.

In addition, it suggests a process where schools continue to be held accountable for the educational attainment and welfare of permanently excluded pupils and resources being made available to schools to facilitate the safe return to school following an exclusion, as well as having clearer oversight of the off-rolling process at schools and encouraging clearer and comprehensive guidance being available to parents and carers contemplating off-rolling.

It also recommends reviewing the current provision of the Pupil Referral Unit and looks to expand this closer to a full-time syllabus.

A statement as part of the report due to be discussed on January 14 said: “We are also leading on several initiatives in place to support schools to reduce exclusions. Including the development of Trauma Perceptive Practice (TPP).

“The vision in Essex is for all schools to embrace TPP. It is the Essex approach to understanding behaviour and supporting emotional wellbeing. It will become the core offer to schools at the universal level of support. We now challenge all permanent exclusions to ensure the schools have exhausted all avenues to avoid exclusion. We have communicated with schools a strong message that the rules around exclusions must be followed and we will support wherever possible.

“As a result of our engagements we have had 55 permanent exclusions this year as opposed to 92 in this period last year. Alongside this activity we are carrying out a full review of pupil referral unit commissioning and funding with a view to ensuring that we have a more consistent and relevant offer.”


Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter