Ethics, Inclusion and Equalities

ASCL position statements

These position statements are agreed via our Ethics, Inclusion and Equalities Committee and cover: 
  • ethical leadership
  • closing the gap
  • equality and diversity (for children and adults in schools and colleges)
  • SEND
  • admissions and exclusions
  • access
  • human rights
  • behaviour
  • safety
  • children with medical issues

What is the context?
Our previous statement on mental health (from January 2021) stated that we are witnessing a mental health crisis amongst children and young people. Over the intervening ten months the situation has become even more acute, with schools and colleges expected to provide ever greater levels of support. 

ASCL position: ASCL believes that there should be clear clinical thresholds that determine when it is appropriate for schools to provide mental health support to pupils, and when cases need to be referred to other agencies.

Why are we saying this?
Schools and colleges are increasingly being called upon to provide mental health support for which they are unlikely to have adequate expertise or experience. We need a clear, shared understanding of what support school and college staff can be expected to provide, and when they must be able to refer children and young people for more specialist support. 

What is the context?
The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED) was a UK government commission supported by the Race Disparity Unit of the Cabinet Office. It was established in 2020 to investigate race and ethnic disparities in the UK, in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd. Important questions about race relations and disparities warranted a thorough examination of why so many disparities persist, and what needs to be done to eliminate or mitigate them.

The Commission published its report in March 2021 to considerable controversy. The report concluded that “the claim the country is still institutionally racist is not borne out by the evidence”. However, some experts complained that the report misrepresented evidence, and that recommendations from contributors from ethnic minority groups were ignored.  

ASCL position: ASCL believes that the report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities is fundamentally flawed, to the extent that we must reject it in its entirety.

Why are we saying it?
The report has been widely discredited for its selective use of evidence. The Commission emphasised the ‘agency’ of people from racial and ethnic minority groups, explaining away racial inequalities based on the choices of certain groups, or in favour of other social factors such as class, geography and family influence. 

Multiple prior reports have highlighted the damaging impact of institutional racism and deep-rooted inequities in areas such as health, education, employment, housing, ‘stop and search’ practices, and the criminal justice system in the UK.

We need to do more to improve the life chances of those children and young people who are disadvantaged as a result of their ethnic background. In education, we also need to recognise and address explicitly the underrepresentation of teachers and leaders from ethnic minority communities. 

We will continue to progress our own programme of work on equalities, diversity and inclusion (EDI), including our network for BAME members, our extensive support for members with protected characteristics, and our growing bank of EDI-focused advice and guidance for school and college leaders.  

We believe the government needs to do more to demonstrate its commitment to EDI in schools and colleges. The Department for Education has made a start with the establishment of their new Equalities Division. We look forward to working with them on key EDI issues, including those related to recruitment, retention, leadership, CPD and the need for a more diverse curriculum.  


What is the context?
During this current period of national lockdown, schools, alternative provision, special schools and colleges may only allow vulnerable pupils and the children of critical workers to attend. 

All pupils who are not eligible to be in school should be marked in attendance registers as Code X. As vulnerable children are still expected to attend school full-time, they should only be marked as Code X if they are shielding, self-isolating or quarantining. Any parent may choose for their child not to attend the school setting, be they key worker or vulnerable. Schools and colleges however should encourage vulnerable children to attend. The DfE has directed schools to grant applications for leave of absence given the exceptional circumstances. This should be recorded as code C (leave of absence authorised by the school) unless another authorised absence code is more applicable. This however only appertains to vulnerable children and not those of critical workers.

ASCL position: ASCL believes that the attendance coding system should be reviewed to recognise that families of vulnerable children have the same rights and responsibilities as other families in terms of remote learning. The C code (leave of absence authorised by the school) should either be replaced or have a second definition to ensure that there is no negative assumption about a family’s choice to remotely educate their child.

ASCL also feels that the DfEent should clearly outline what the attendance data for all groups of children will be used for and how it will enable leaders to further support the learning of its pupils. 

Why are we saying it?
ASCL fully supports the collation of attendance data if it is used to ensure the needs of all children are tracked and analysed to enable effective support to be given. However, we feel that by granting leave of absence to this one group of children, school leaders are regarding their absence from school as a deficit even though many vulnerable children, especially if effective risk assessments are undertaken, are receiving impactful remote education.  

ASCL is also concerned that by granting a leave of absence to any child during such a volatile period, parents, carers and school leaders may be seen as discriminating and not treating families consistently, equitably and fairly. It would seem sensible to remove the fear that different coding may be viewed as something that parents and schools might be held accountable for negative circumstances that may impact families.

What is the context?
We are witnessing a mental health crisis amongst children and young people. An already worrying situation has been exacerbated by Covid-19. Ofsted’s second report into the impact of the pandemic across educational settings highlighted the extent to which children are showing signs of mental health issues such as eating disorders and self-harm. 

The government’s proposed national intervention, Wellbeing for Education Return (WER), is intended to provide training to a representative from every school and college. However, this training intended to support return in September is only now reaching schools. In addition to this, ASCL has learnt that the government strategy and funding to put a Senior Mental Health Lead in each school is paused. 

ASCL position: ASCL agrees with the approach laid out in the Mental Health Green Paper to recruit and operate Mental Health Support Teams in every region alongside identifying and training a Mental Health Lead in every school. However, if this roll out is to be delayed/paused, ASCL asks that the local experts trained for the Wellbeing for Education Return (WER) initiative are made available directly to schools as a resource to support staff and pupils for the next 12 months, while we wait for the planned strategy to be rolled out. 

ASCL also asks that the funding identified for mental health training be channeled directly to schools in the interim. At the moment in particular, schools  are best suited to determine locally designed interventions and ensure they can offer a quick response to pupils with the most immediate and urgent needs. 

Why are we saying it?
The government’s current approach does not go far enough, move quickly enough or last long enough to meet the mental health and wellbeing of our children, post-Covid-19. Targeted and sustained support for pupil well-being is essential to meet their growing and complex needs post pandemic. Growing wellbeing and mental health issues are acting as a significant barrier against learning engagement and development across all school phases. These are continuing problems which require ongoing effective funding and support.

What is the context?
Two thirds of local authorities have seen a significant rise in elective home education post-lockdown. The UK has one of the lowest thresholds for regulation and monitoring of home educators in Europe. Nearly 30,000 children were home educated between 2016-17, a doubling since 2011. In 2018 it hit 60,000. The 2020 spike highlights the need for more effective local monitoring to ensure children don't go missing within the system. 

ASCL position: ASCL believes the recent increase in elective home education requires a rapid response from DfE. This response must include:

  • the commissioning of research to identify the reasons behind this increase
  • an enhanced home education infrastructure, including a national register of home educators and additional financial resource to support for local monitoring, advice, and regular review. 

In addition, in the 2020/21 academic year, DfE should make provision for discrepancies in the census caused by the increase in elective home education. Where children return to school part way through the academic year, schools should be compensated in-year and not have to wait for the 2021 census. This will enable schools to provide core education and additional support where needed.

Why are we saying it?
Many children who are educated at home thrive. However, we are concerned that the rapid increase in the number of home-educated children may be driven by factors other than carefully considered parental choice, including concerns related to the pandemic and, in a small number of cases, off-rolling. 

It is crucial that we understand what is driving this increase in numbers, that an appropriate infrastructure is put in place to identify and monitor children being taught at home, and that sufficient funding is provided both to home-educating families and to schools which welcome back previously home-educated children. 

What is the context?
Accountability measures and the ambition to lead inclusive schools appear to be at odds with each other. Whether Progress 8 or Ofsted, the primary assessment focus is on academic attainment whilst research tells us that disadvantage pupils are statistically less likely to achieve compared to their peers. The current educational landscape has therefore established perverse incentives where schools see a negative ‘cost’ to supporting young people who face multiple disadvantage. 

ASCL position:
Current accountability measures disincentivise schools from supporting children who experience multiple disadvantages.   These children are unfairly judged as statistically negative contributors towards these measures. ASCL believes schools must be incentivised, appropriately resourced and recognised for taking effective responsibility for these children.

Why are we saying it?
Headteachers tell us they feel penalised for being inclusive. That the performance measures used to inform the system actively disincentivise schools from welcoming and retaining young people who are experiencing difficulty; difficulties that impact on their academic performance.  A school’s Progress 8 score is the mean average of its pupils’ Progress 8 scores. For all mainstream pupils nationally, the average Progress 8 score will be zero. Low attaining pupils fall below that average even where they are making progress. This makes it less attractive for schools to accept or retain pupils whose circumstances place them at a disadvantage. We believe a system that puts an actual negative value on any child is fundamentally flawed and risks contravening the Equalities Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and in particular Articles 24, 31 and 33, which requires countries to develop an inclusive education system for all children.

What is the context?
Children who are looked after need further recognition and support. A report from the children’s commissioner on Dec 24th 2019 called Pass the Parcel highlighted the continuing issues faced by children in care. It highlights particular concern for the 30,000 living ‘out of area’ who are at increased risk of violence, gangs and grooming. Recent reports relating to exclusions and mental health highlight the need to improve our understanding of what interventions are most effective for young people with dual or multiple needs. ASCL will co-opt a virtual head to sit on the EIE Committee.

ASCL position: Children who are looked after are some of the most vulnerable in our care. They deserve consistent support and provision. There must be a unified national strategy to ensure that these children’s lives are made as stable as possible. This strategy must include Virtual Headteachers acting as consistent advocates to incentivise schools to take on vulnerable children.

Why are we saying it? Looked after children experience multiple vulnerabilities. Currently the quality of provision and practice for these children relates to the local area support and young people’s experience can be a postcode lottery; consistent, good quality provision is required. The issue of intersectionality (several overlapping and interlocking disadvantages) warrants better recognition in our schools and ASCL supports strengthening the role of Virtual Heads to advocate, working proactively with their network of local heads to prioritise the needs of these young people. 

What is the context? In October 2018, ASCL launched an independent Commission of Inquiry to look into how to improve the prospects of the ‘forgotten third’ of young people who do not achieve at least a grade 4 pass in GCSE English and maths at the end of twelve years of schooling. 

In September 2019, the Commission published its final report. The report included fourteen recommendations to help address this issue, covering early years, curriculum and pedagogy, teacher education, and the qualifications system. 

These recommendations included calls for a long-term review both of the English curriculum from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage and of the GCSE exam system as a whole. The Commission also recommended a new approach to end-of-primary assessment and accountability, and the replacement of GCSE English Language with a Passport in English, to be taken by all pupils at the point of readiness between the ages of 15 and 19.

ASCL position: ASCL thanks the Forgotten Third Commission of Inquiry for the expertise and commitment they brought to the question of how we can improve the prospects of the ‘Forgotten Third’.

ASCL fully supports the recommendations in the Commission’s final report, and adopts these as policy.

Why are we saying it? We must do more to improve the life chances of those children and young people, disproportionately from disadvantaged backgrounds, for whom the current education system simply isn’t working. We must also find better ways to recognise the achievements of all young people. We believe that acting on the recommendations in this report would make a significant and positive impact on these young people’s lives and futures. 

What is the context? Statutory Relationships and Health Education for all schools comes into force in September 2020. Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) will be statutory in all secondary schools.

The government’s guidance on Relationships Education in primary schools says that schools must teach about different types of families. The guidance uses LGBT parents as one example of a family type, but fails to clarify that there is a requirement for primary schools to teach that some children are growing up with same-sex parents.

ASCL position: Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE), including Relationships Health and Sex Education (RSE), is an important and necessary part of all pupils’ education. PSHE (including RSE) should be a statutory, but not prescriptive, part of children’s learning.

It is right that, from September 2020, there will be a requirement for all children to receive Relationship Education and, in secondary schools, Sex Education. We welcome the flexibility for schools to deliver these subjects, which meets the needs of all their communities. We consider it unnecessary for the government to provide standardised frameworks or programmes of study. 

ASCL calls urgently for a clear statement from government that, within Relationships Education in primary schools, children must be taught that there are many types of family, including those with LGBT parents.

Why are we saying it? School leaders must not be used as a shield by the government on this particularly emotive issue. By just including LGBT families as an ‘example’ of the different types of family primary schools might talk about, it becomes an individual headteacher’s decision whether or not to use that particular example.

Government needs to step in and provide clarity by making it clear that primary schools must talk about LGBT families. This will help create an environment where all children feel acceptance and a sense of belonging, and take some of the pressure away from individual headteachers.

What is the context? Recently published reports (from the National Audit Office and the Education Policy Institute) state that 1,041,500 pupils (79.4% of pupils with SEND) did not have EHCPs but had been identified as needing some additional support at school. The vast majority of these children (91.6%) attended mainstream settings. 

Some pupils with SEND are receiving high quality support that meets their needs, whether they attend mainstream schools or special schools. However, recent system reviews indicate that many other pupils are not being supported effectively, and that pupils with SEND who do not have EHCPs are particularly exposed.

ASCL position: We need a broader recognition of the fact that the EHCP process is not the only mechanism for supporting children with SEND. School leaders need to be able to use resources more flexibly in order intervene in an effective and timely manner. 

Why are we saying this? Pupils with SEND are among the most vulnerable in the school system. The quality of support they receive affects their well-being, educational attainment, likelihood of subsequent employment, and long-term life prospects. More needs to be done at a system level to support schools to effectively meet the needs and support the progress of pupils who are identified as requiring SEN support, in ways that are most appropriate to each individual case. 

What is the context? The government substantially changed the system for supporting children and young people with SEND in September 2014, under the Children and Families Act 2014. The aims of the reforms were to enable children’s needs to be identified earlier; families to be more involved in decisions affecting them; education, health and social care services to be better integrated; and support to remain in place up to the age of 25 where appropriate.

ASCL position: ASCL calls for a consistent, transparent and high-quality Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP) process. 

Why are we saying this? We are concerned about the variability of the process of applying for an EHCP across the country. There needs to be greater consistency and accountability for quality. Clear expectations and consideration by the Department, and a standard EHCP template, would help schools cut down on bureaucracy and support better outcomes for young people with SEND.

What is the context? This statement is an expansion of our previous position that all schools in an area should take collective responsibility for exclusions. It was prompted by recommendations made by the Timpson Review that schools should work closely with each other, and with local authorities, to jointly commission high quality alternative provision (AP).

Some areas, such as Tower Hamlets, are already using this model successfully, though it must be noted that this is an area with significantly higher funding than most parts of the country.

ASCL position: School and college leaders should create a culture of inclusivity through ethical leadership.

We believe that all schools need to take collective responsibility for all children and young people living in their local area, including an expectation of regional or local coordination for leading and collaborating on all managed moves, exclusions and the planning and funding of local high-quality alternative provision.

All schools need to reflect on the process they use prior to exclusion; well-informed practice will lead to decisions made in the best interests of children.

Why are we saying it? We believe that schools taking collective responsibility for all local children will help to ensure that children are educated in high quality provision that is most suitable to their needs.

We are concerned about the inconsistency in the funding, quality, availability and type of AP across the country. We are also concerned about inconsistency in the way in which mainstream schools work with each other and with local AP, and the way in which they refer children to AP.

We prefer to talk about collective ‘responsibility’ rather than ‘accountability’, because this implies that the schools are collectively taking ownership for the education of all local children, regardless of which school they started in.

What is the context? The use of online technology, including social media, has grown at great speed. Teachers, parents, policy makers and children do not always fully understand the implications of this for young people’s relationships, safety, mental health and wellbeing. Neither do we know how the vast amounts of data being gathered on young people may be accessed and used, now or in the future. ASCL members want government and technology companies to do more to protect young people and to help them to develop and maintain good digital health.

ASCL position: Schools and colleges have a central role in teaching children and young people about positive digital health. We believe there is a need for a clear strategy to mitigate against the negative impacts of digital content and social media. These effects can be around wellbeing, mental health, safeguarding and privacy, both now and in the longer term.  

ASCL members believe that technology companies should be subject to minimum standards of age-appropriate design, with a mandatory code backed by an independent regulator.

Why are we saying this? ASCL surveyed 460 secondary school headteachers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in state and independent schools in January 2018. They were asked about the impact on pupils of social media use over the past 12 months. The results were stark and unequivocal, and included the following statistics:

  • 95% felt that the mental health and wellbeing of a proportion of their pupils had suffered as a result of social media use.
  • Almost all (459/460) had received reports of pupils being bullied on social media.
  • Almost all (457/460) had received reports of pupils encountering upsetting material on social media, such as sexual content, self-harm, bullying, or hate speech.
  • 89% had received reports of pupils being approached by strangers on social media sites.
  • 93% had received reports of pupils experiencing low self-esteem as a result of seeing idealised images and experiences on social media.
  • 96% had received reports of pupils missing out on sleep as a result of social media use.
  • 93% said that new laws and regulation should be introduced to ensure social media sites keep children safe