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Gavin Williamson backs headteachers' right to exclude kids and touts SEND free schools but evades school climate strikes question

PUBLISHED: 19:22 17 September 2019 | UPDATED: 09:23 18 September 2019

Education secretary Gavin Williamson, pictured at the University of Birmingham. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Education secretary Gavin Williamson, pictured at the University of Birmingham. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

PA Wire/PA Images

Education secretary Gavin Williamson today told this paper he backed headteachers' right to exclude pupils, and touted a new wave of free schools for kids with special educational needs (SEND) - but wouldn't say whether he supported the school climate strikes.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson, pictured at the University of Birmingham. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA WireEducation secretary Gavin Williamson, pictured at the University of Birmingham. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

After visiting the London East Alternative Provision in Stepney, Mr Williams said the £700million he's "secured" in extra SEND funding for next year is "substantially more" than was being spent in 2010. Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, predicted in April that between 2010 and 2020 councils would have lost almost 60p out of every £1 the government once provided for SEND services.

Mr Williamson now wants to expand the free school system created by his predecessor Michael Gove. He told this paper: "One of the things I'm really wanting to do is to shine a light as to how we can make alternative provision [schools for those outside mainstream education, including pupils who've been excluded] better, and coming here to see a real example in learning how you do it is just an inspiration for me.

"What I saw is a real focus on tailoring the teaching to the needs of the pupils, ensuring they did well in English and maths, ensuring they had the skill sets required to go on to further training and jobs."

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Asked if there was a link between knife crime and exclusions, and if schools should be discouraged from excluding pupils in favour of a more holistic approach, he said: "Headteachers always need to be able to make exclusions where and if it's appropriate - that's what headteachers need to know, they have backing. But if a child isn't in school, there has to be proper provision for them."

In the 2017/18 academic year, 26 students were permanently excluded from schools run by Islington Council, while 52 were expelled in Hackney and 21 in Camden. Alex Smith, 18, was stabbed to death in Camden's Regents Park Estate last month about a year after he was excluded from Acland Burghley School in Tufnell Park.

On Friday, Swedish green activist Greta Thunberg will lead a youth climate strike in 150 countries. Asked if it's right that children feel compelled to miss school to protest against the government's perceived failure to tackle the crisis, Mr Williamson said only: "This government has done more in terms of tackling issues to do with the environment than the last Labour government."

He cited Mrs May's commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions in the UK by 2050.

This paper twice asked Mr Williamson if he supported the school strike movement but he said "I have got to get my train now", and hung up.

There will be climate strike rallies outside Islington and Hackney town halls at 12pm on Friday, and a protest at Pancras Square at 12.30.

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