Why it might be time to exterminate exclusions

The debate surrounding exclusions has been raging for a while, but the latest report on the link between exclusions and knife crime has brought it to the forefront

Permanent exclusion rates in English schools are at their highest level in almost a decade with 7,900 pupils being permanently excluded in 2017-2018. This equates to around 42 pupils being permanently excluded every day, with eight-out of-ten of those excluded being from vulnerable backgrounds.

A new report published by a committee of MPs has suggested that exclusions are used too often for minor misbehaviours; this is despite the fact that current Department for Education guidance states that exclusion can only be justified when allowing a disruptive student to remain in school affects the learning and wellbeing of other students.

The report also states that there is a link between permanent exclusions and youth crime such as knife violence and county lines drug trafficking. The MPs said that pupils who were excluded became ‘easy pickings’ for criminal gangs.

It also criticised the fact that only a third of councils had space for newly excluded pupils in pupil referral units; this means that many pupils who get excluded only have a couple of hours’ teaching a day. As a result, the report has urged the government to make sure that councils provide full-time, quality education for all excluded pupils.

A counter-productive approach

Although this report has brought the argument that school exclusions are counter-productive to the forefront, previous research has also shown the damage that disengagement from secondary education can do. One study, The effects of childhood maltreatment on brain structure, function and connectivity, found that exclusions are linked to childhood trauma, an increased likelihood of not being in employment, education or training and poor educational outcomes.

In response to the widespread condemnation of exclusions, mayor of London Sadiq Khan has announced he will spend £4.7m to cut school exclusions in the capital. The money will be spent on programmes which will boost teachers’ knowledge and skills in supporting and spotting vulnerable pupils. The mayor is hoping to replicate the success of a similar programme which was used in Glasgow and resulted in exclusions being reduced by 81% and violence being reduced by 48% in the last decade.

Khan said that research published earlier this year by the Greater London Authority, which found that nine-in-10 persistent offenders had been excluded from school at some point, demonstrates that exclusions need to be re-thought as their link to crime is clear. “I have been clear that we have to do everything we can to keep young people in schools, and the current approach to exclusions simply isn’t working – for teachers or pupils – and this has to change,” he said.

“Our hard-working teachers are doing everything they can to keep young people in schools, and engaged with their education, but they are struggling because of a lack funding and support from government.”

Simon Edwards, a senior lecturer in youth studies at the University of Portsmouth is also concerned. “As a qualified youth worker and secondary school teacher, working with marginalised students and their parents for the last 20 years, it is clear to me that the use of exclusion not only impacts these vulnerable students’ chances of gaining good qualifications, but also silences their voices and any influence they may have on making meaningful changes to the organisations they attend,” he said.

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