Returning pupils to mainstream schools successfully, following permanent exclusion : participant perceptions
In 1996, the authority within which this researcher works became a Unitary Authority. and received a substantial Standard Fund Grant to tackle exclusion and disaffection. The project aims included the objective of increasing the number of permanently excluded pupils returning to mainstream schools. I was seconded to the projec~ as a full time educational psychologis~ along with a behavioural support teacher. education social worker and four learning support assistants. The project, though changing year on year in terms of specific conten~ continued for three years; towards the end of this period, the reintegration process for excluded children became the responsibility of the behaviour support service, and the project as a discrete entity ceased to exist. Permanent exclusion rates in this LEA mirrored national figures at the time the project began. Review of the literature revealed that although plenty had been written about exclusion, relatively little existed in the literature concerning the return of permanently excluded pupils to new schools. Of the small body of literature that did exist, much was found to be speculative. In addition, little had captured the views of pupils and families about the processes of reintegration. The literature indicated various factors that were believed to be important in ensuring success of new placements, including a small amount specifically related to post-exclusion, though it was observed that the evidence upon which this was based could not be described as robust. The present empirical study sought to discover the perceptions of participants (pupils, families, school staff and LEA support staff) about the experiences of return to mainstream school for five pupils. These pupils were selected on the basis that they had maintained new placements for at least three terms following return. This study took a ~solution focused' view - ie it explored the factors which participants viewed as important in supporting the long-term success of new placement. This perspective arose because examination of LEA records revealed that over a period of six years, some years showed only 25% of pupils were maintained in new placements for three terms or more. Data was obtained through individual interviews with parents, pupils,receiving school staff and LEA support staff. In additio~ a focus group interview was held with members of the LEA behaviour support team. Since participant perceptions and attitudes were sought, 'new paradigm' interpretive methodology was applied, and grounded theory was used to analyse individual interviews and focus group data. The main findings of the research highlighted: • the varying perceptions of what constituted 'successful' reintegration: LEA records were not always consistent with parental perception • the relatively low profile given by pupils and parents to the preparation of new placements in terms of curriculum, basic skills, subject choices, graduated build up etc (all of which are indicated to be important by the existing literature) • the critical importance of the quality of relationships within pupil relational networks: this dimension incorporates adult/pupil relationships, those pertaining to adult/adult relationships within the pupil network, and pupil/pupil networks • the quality of emotional support available to pupils, arising from the quality of those relationships within the relational network. In addition, academic support was also raised • the perceived importance of the pupils' own characteristics: attitude towards the new placement and their determination to succeed In the context of pupils returning to new mainstream schools following permanent exclusion, and sustaining these placements beyond three terms, the present study (through the application of grounded theory) raises three core dimensions which play a critical role in initial and maintained success, namely: relationships, support,and pupil characteristics. Some of these issues raised may also be directly applicable to other aspects of inclusive practice, for example pupils moving from enhanced provision/special units/special schools into mainstream settings. The psychological and social processes of such transitions for pupils and their families may well echo those described in this dissertation.