EXCLUSION numbers soared at Swansea’s pupil referral unit (PRU) when staff enforced the non-smoking policy, and the move seems to be working.

The PRU caters for pupils aged five to 16 who are experiencing social, emotional, behavioural or mental health difficulties.

There were 123 fixed-term exclusions in 2016-17, rising to 258 and then 514 in the following two years.

The figures were contained in a report which was discussed by a council education scrutiny panel.

Speaking at the scrutiny meeting, Nick Williams, Swansea Council’s director of education, said: “In the past learners were allowed to smoke on the premises, because it was not worth the hassle, so to speak. We have challenged that – that has impacted on the figures.”

Mr Williams explained it was sometimes in the best interests of learners and staff to use “the ultimate sanction”, especially in response to aggressive behaviour.

The figures also showed an increase in exclusions across Swansea’s schools, including the PRU, from 726 in 2016-17, to 1,003 and 1,418 in the following two years.

Some schools experienced sharp rises, such as Gowerton School, Penyrheol Comprehensive School and Trallwn Primary School.
Bishop Gore School exclusions trebled in one year, but then tapered off in 2018-19.

Meanwhile, Birchgrove Comprehensive School and Townhill Primary School were among a number of schools where exclusions have fallen.

Cllr Jennifer Raynor, cabinet member for education improvement, learning and skills, praised Birchgrove comprehensive and Dylan Thomas Community Schools for their success in taking on excluded pupils from other schools. “I think there is a lot we can learn,” she said. “Should those children have been in that school in the first instance?” Cllr Raynor added that some exclusions were just a day, or even half a day, but still had to be recorded.

The report before the scrutiny panel said the number of school exclusions in Swansea “compare favourably with Wales”.

However an education officer said, when asked, that there were also some instances of “undeclared exclusions”, which she described as “unacceptable”.

The report also said Swansea came fifth out of Wales’s 22 councils for pupil attendance at secondary schools in 2018-19, and 13th for primary school attendance.

The panel was presented with a slew of school performance data, which Mr Williams said was impossible to compare with previous years because of changes in various metrics and indicators. “The system is in a state of flux,” he said. “It is a one-year snapshot.”

Cllr Mike Day said: “So why bother looking at the data?”

Mr Williams replied: “To trigger this debate.”

Mr Williams added: “Swansea schools continue to perform strongly in the region and continue to perform strongly in Wales. It’s not me saying that, it’s (inspection body) Estyn saying that.  Some of the achievements and outcomes at the county’s schools, he said, were “absolutely outstanding”.

The Swansea PRU, which has around 130 pupils, was inspected by Estyn in February 2019 and achieved a “good” rating in the five key areas assessed.

A new Swansea PRU is expected to open in Cockett this autumn, replacing the current three sites in Manselton,  Cockett and Penlan.

Speaking after the scrutiny meeting, a council spokesman said of the non-smoking enforcement at the Swansea PRU over the last 18 months: “We want to encourage pupils at all our schools to lead healthier lifestyles and support and advice on smoking cessation is offered to all pupils. It provided an opportunity for pupils to look at the reasons why smoking is restricted in many places and the chance to also consider the effects of passive smoking. On passive smoking we have a duty to the staff in the PRU. The PRU has seen fewer exclusions in the recent months for smoking on site.”

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