County lines report calls on Ofsted to prioritise inclusion
Ofsted should radically change its approach to how it assesses schools to stop vulnerable children from being lured into dealing drugs as part of the so-called county lines crisis, according to a report commissioned by the Home Office.
The education watchdog’s criteria should be reviewed to encourage better “inclusion and support” as well as training for teachers, according to the report, which is due to be published on Thursday.
It comes amid concern around county lines gangs who use children to traffic drugs from inner-city areas to provincial towns, where they are used to sell drugs.
“Ofsted has a role to play … It’s about making sure it is in a school’s interest to ensure they are doing a better job with these young people … It’s part of the picture now and, for some, schools moving kids that are going to bring down the GCSE results [is important],” said Evan Jones, head of community services at the St Giles Trust charity, which published the report.
“Ofsted must look at that and make sure that is not what they are doing, and so from a school’s point of view it makes more sense to hold on to a child and support them.”
He added: “[Ofsted] has a role and should incentivise work with different children and if schools are chasing GCSE results that is something they will sacrifice.”
The report, published by the charity, which supports young people caught up in offending, focused on the work of a Home Office-funded pilot project it ran between September 2017 and September 2018. The work has carried on since the pilot finished.
It involved 38 children who were given one-to-one casework support. Of the 35 children remaining in the caseload in September 2018, 85% were effectively helped either by leaving county lines gangs or decreasing their activity in them.
The report also noted that the pattern of local recruitment into gangs continued with the children supported by St Giles Trust “now exclusively in Kent”.
“By spring 2018, all children being supported were from Kent, confirming the trend for increased recruitment of local children into county lines activity. There are fewer referrals of girls to the service and they have proved more difficult to engage. However, the new cohort of referrals made in early October 2018 includes, for the first time, girls who are being sexually exploited and used as drug mules by the same county line,” the report said.
It also noted that the caseload of children needing support consistently exceeded expectations during the court of the pilot, despite no promotion of the project.
“The county lines intelligence centre is trying to get its head around how big the problem is … We contribute what we can to that knowledge but we just know when you open a service offering support to young people involved in county lines, it fills immediately,” Jones said.
The charity’s work was judged a success, but recommendations were made about how to improve the situation. One of the recommendations was around alternative mainstream education provision, which the charity said should be urgently reviewed to help vulnerable children. “This should include reviewing Ofsted criteria to incentivise better inclusion and support, and training/development for teachers and support staff,” the report found.
Ofsted recently announced that it would look more closely at whether schools were “repeatedly” suspending or isolating the same pupils under itsnew inspection framework. A school found to be using suspensions or fixed-term exclusions “inappropriately” would only then be able to achieve a “requires improvement” grade at most.
“Ofsted are starting to address issues better and recognising a broad range of issues that vulnerabilities can lead to,” Jones said.
The report also suggested there was a need for longer-term funding for charities working in this area. It also said that the Modern Slavery Act and national referral mechanism should continue to be reviewed to see how this legislation and process could better help children in need of support.
Jones said that while education and keeping children supported in schools was important, the biggest driver of the county lines drugs phenomenon was demand.
“People want drugs. If you decriminalised class As [drugs] you would reduce demand and if you did that you would reduce the ability of these groups to earn money, that is what is driving it … the drug markets in London were saturated and people became aware of those who want drugs outside of London,” Jones said.
He added: “It is hard to believe these drug gangs are simply feeding hardcore problem drug users, they must also be tapping into the recreational market which is bigger than people think. There are some that use crack at weekends, and it is not just the image of drug-depraved junkies in an alley but it could be someone who goes to work on a Monday. The same is true of cocaine particularly.”
A spokesman for Ofsted said: “We support the right of headteachers to exclude where it is in the interests of pupils in the school, however our proposed new education inspection framework also emphasises the importance of creating an inclusive school culture.
As part of the new framework we plan to check the work of schools in supporting pupils who are excluded for a fixed period of time. We also propose that inspectors will evaluate the way pupil referral unit leaders help keep their pupils safe, since they are particularly vulnerable to be exploited by county line gangs.”