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Woodwork could help stop Derbyshire kids straying into ‘darker realms’

Linda Chilton
Linda Chilton

Hands-on classes such as woodwork and apprenticeships are needed to stop troubled kids at risk of school exclusion from straying into “darker realms,” a county councillor has said.

These comments were made by Tory councillor Linda Chilton at a meeting of Derbyshire County Council’s improvement and scrutiny committee today.

Practical lessons and apprenticeships are important for young people, according to the councillor

Practical lessons and apprenticeships are important for young people, according to the councillor

This followed the presentation of a landmark review of rising permanent exclusions in Derbyshire.

In the most recent complete figures, from 2016/17, there were 136 permanent exclusions in Derbyshire, up from 111 and 94 in the two previous years, respectively.

The investigation found a lack of mental health support, reduced school budgets and new assessment methods to be to blame for the rising figures.

In particular, it found that the assessment method Progress 8 was “definitely a factor in the increase in permanent exclusions”.

This method assesses the amount of progress students make during their time at secondary school.

It takes the grades which a student began with and compares them to youngsters across England who started with similar grades in up to eight subjects to assess how much progress has been made

This produces a score above or below zero, stating whether, on average, pupils either outscored, matched or fell under the national standard.

However, not all courses are included or carry equal weight in this band of assessment, with a focus heavily geared towards the usual academic subjects, such as English, maths and the sciences.

Generally vocational type activities are deemed “not compliant” with the Progress 8 curriculum.

Therefore, any child involved in these activities would receive a zero against their individual score for that particular activity.

The report found that the impact of this can be significant in a small school, just one student who is not Progress 8 compliant can cause the school’s overall score to drop, resulting in the school being labelled a coasting

school and being subject to the scrutiny of Ofsted.

It states: “The Progress 8 measure has unintentionally created a situation where head teachers are having to juggle what is best for the school as a whole and what is best for individual students.

“Some vocational-type activities may well be better for a small number of students but in deciding whether to provide vocational activities the school has to weigh up the impact on how the school will be judged.”

Councillor Chilton said: “We need to let them do apprenticeships.

“I was at a meeting with Burton and South Derbyshire College the other day and we were saying that there is no reason that pupils can not focus on more vocational courses like woodwork and go back to academia later in their life.

“If we carry on with this course, and I know a lot of it is under strict government guidance, then these pupils will be lost by society into darker realms.”

Labour county councillor Jim Coyle said that not all pupils flourish in the typical academic subjects and that classes which teach practical skills should carry the same weight in terms of how students are assessed for achievement and progress.

He said: “It is a massive problem and I don’t honestly see it getting any better.

“Kids are staying in education now until they are 18 and a lot of them just don’t want to be there.

“Teachers are under immense pressure to get their school higher up the league tables and they are having to weigh up what they think is best for pupils as part of that, along with meeting government standards.

“However, sometimes what is best for each pupil are the things that are being taken from them, the things the pupils actually want to do, but don’t fall into Progress 8, these are classes like woodwork.

“These kids should be able to do things they would want to do, and do well, and not just being pushed into academia.

“But at the moment, if they don’t want to do the more academic stuff, there is nowhere for them.”

Eddie Bisknell , Local Democracy Reporting Service