THE number of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities permanently excluded from Barnsley schools is on the rise - with campaigners saying the figures point towards the controversial practice of ‘off-rolling’.

From last September to June, 24 pupils with SEND - special educational needs and disabilities - were permanently excluded from school.

This means 42 per cent of all permanent exclusions made involved SEND children.

The previous academic year, 13 pupils permanently excluded were those with SEND, which equates to a quarter of all permanent exclusions in that year.

This is despite the total number of SEND pupils only accounting for 14.4 per cent of the total school population in the borough, according to census data from May.

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The rise is, according to campaigners for those with SEND, indicative of ‘off-rolling’ - the removal of pupils with a view to improving GCSE results.

The figures come from a Freedom of Information request sent to the council by former school governor Kevin Osborne, who said the request had been prompted by reports that some pupils were not allowed to their end-of-term proms ‘as they had received exclusions throughout the school year, and that some were SEND’.

“I have previously been a school governor and an executive director of a multi school academy trust and heard rumours of ‘off-rolling’ before but never seen any concrete evidence,” said Kevin.

“These shocking figures indicate that those in our education system who need the greatest help are seemingly being pushed aside in the misguided pursuit of targets and performance and not receiving the support they need.

“That’s unfair and I call on those responsible to consider how their short-sighted actions are having a major impact in the future of the most vulnerable.”

Campaigner Jonathan Wainwright blamed the increase on the council’s ‘academisaton agenda’ that has seen a number of multi-academy trusts (MATs) enter the town.

“It’s become a problem in the last 18 months in Barnsley, but it’s a self-made one,” said Jonathan, who has campaigned for SEND children for three years and is in the process of setting up a group to help the cause.

“It’s an abomination that they’ve let the MATs implement a zero-tolerance policy to running our schools.

“When the MATs came in the area wasn’t great for results, a lot of schools weren’t even rated as ‘good’ by Ofsted.

“But we’re still failing our kids with this knee jerk reaction of exclusions.

“As with any provision, it’s the most vulnerable people that suffer first. It’s sacrificing kids for results. Rather than look at the problem, we exclude.

"I am hoping that these kind of stats surrounding our most vulnerable are being noticed by Ofsted so that we can start getting to the bottom of what is making us one of worst areas in the country for exclusions."

Coun Margaret Bruff, cabinet spokesperson for children's services, said the council recognised the rise and would be looking at ways to take action.

"Although the use of exclusions, both fixed-term and permanent, remains an important tool for head teachers in driving up standards of behaviour in our schools it is regrettable that this often marginalises those who most require an inclusive approach to education,” said Coun Bruff.

"Head teachers, multi-academy trusts and governors, working through the Barnsley Schools Alliance, have therefore identified a number of actions to address this issue as a matter of urgency.

"The council will continue to support and, where necessary, challenge school leaders to ensure our schools and academies are as inclusive as they possibly can be for all pupils."