Dr Poppy Gibson and Matthew Tragheim
Our education system aims to provide education for all. ‘Every Child Matters’, the UK Government’s initiative for England in Wales that was launched in 2003 (DfE, 2004) highlighted the need for schools and agencies to work together to ensure all children could be given the opportunities to be Safe, Healthy, Enjoy/Achieve, Economic, and Positive Contribution.
Sometimes, however, a school cannot continue to meet the needs of a pupil, and the headteacher may issue an exclusion, which is the most severe type of punishment (Demie, 2022). There are three types of exclusion that a headteacher can legally draw upon:
Internal exclusion (the pupil remains at school but is taught separately from peers)
Fixed-term exclusion (for a fixed period, and no more than 15 days per term)
Permanent exclusion (the pupil may no longer attend the school)
Whilst, additionally, informal exclusions (sending a pupil home or instigating a reduced timetable) and ‘off-rolling’ (removing the pupil from a school’s register for the benefit of the school) may also be employed.
Risks as a result of exclusion
School exclusions put young people at greater risk of exploitation, serious violence and criminal activity (Arnez & Condry, 2021). Pervasive and repeated exclusions throughout a child’s life- can be highly damaging for all involved. As schools have sought to return to pre-Covid curriculum content and pedagogies, there has been a recognition that children’s emotional and social development has been detrimentally affected by the pandemic (Crane et al., 2021). Although reports of resilience and nimble adaptation are noted, many young children have still struggled during their return to traditional school settings. Furthermore, teachers have broadly acknowledged that the youngest year groups show visible signs of lost learning in socialisation, developmental progress and regulating behaviour (Jalongo, 2021). The recent report, All Together Now Inclusion not exclusion: supporting all young people to succeed in school (COYL, 2022) calls for an end to exclusion culture, and a shift toward a more inclusive approach to managing behaviour.
As Demie (2022) highlights, there is a disproportionality of certain groups, such as particular ethnic groups, or pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).
This post will build on the aforementioned context and focus on the disproportionate impact of exclusion on black Caribbean pupils as they progress through the education system. The implications of the Commission on Young Lives report (COYL, 2022), headed by former children’s commissioner Anne Longfield, will be explicitly foundational to this discussion as it articulates some uncomfortable societal trends of discrimination affecting children. This post will endeavour to address possible underlying issues of exclusion and institutional prejudices in education, suggesting practical remedies to improve inclusion for all pupils.
The effects of exclusion
Exclusions not only criminalise children but also disconnect vital threads of nurture, visibility, support and protection. Inherent within its very definition, an exclusion causes an explicit and immediate termination of a pathway. It could be argued that exclusions are a necessary evil. After all, all institutions must have systems of redress to signal unacceptable behaviour. An often citied rationale for invoking such restitution is for the safety of peers, practitioners or the wider community (Adams, 2022). However, such rationale implies that the removal of an immediate threat successfully punishes and protects simultaneously. Although there may be an argument for temporary alleviation, such archaic restorative justice benefits neither the victim nor perpetuator. All parties involved need support, care and inclusion.
It is the poorest and most socioeconomically vulnerable who are least able to buffer disconnection with school. Indeed, this is a theme that resonates when considering both successive school lockdowns and exclusion. Longfield’s report (COYL, 2022) highlights how school exclusion can act as a ‘trigger point’ for involvement in county lines and gangs which lead to criminality, substance dependency or sexual exploitation. It could be argued that such inclusion-seeking behaviour stems from the compounded trauma of repeated rejection from multiple sources over time. Such experiences of ostracisation could be most commonly felt by children from minority groups. Indeed, recent figures suggest that children identifying as black Caribbean are six times more likely to experience school exclusion, compared to their white British counterparts (DfE, 2021). This figure is concerning on two counts. Firstly, it highlights that, on some level at least, there is institutional bias or prejudice towards black Caribbean children. Secondly, it represents a failure to ensure social and educational inclusion of children who identify as black Caribbean.
Longfield’s report (COYL, 2022) is intriguing in it’s explicit regard and consideration of black Caribbean children. It recognises that schools are a social confluence, where multiple domains of knowledge, power and influence can be observed and experienced. Possibly due to the recent treatment of Child Q detailed in mainstream media (City of London & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership, 2022), time is taken in the report to better understand how underlying prejudices toward minority groups affect exclusion. Longfield surmises that black Caribbean children suffer from perceptions of premature adultification. That is to say that such children are treated more harshly due to a misperception of adolescence or maturity placed upon them. Judging black Caribbean children with such irrational expectation is certain to ostracise them, subtly or explicitly, long before any formal exclusion processes begin. Certainly, being held to a different standard than peers must subconsciously add to a sense of alienation or, even worse, breed resentment towards a social inequality that is reinforced by education systems. Post-pandemic, this underlying racial inequity and inequality driving exclusions can only become more pervasive and harmful for children at risk.
Adams, R. (2022). Ban permanent exclusions from English primaries, says ex-children’s tsar. The Guardian. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/education/2022/apr/29/ban-permanent-exclusions-from-english-primaries-says-ex-childrens-tsar [Accessed 14th June 2022].
Arnez, J. & Condry, R. (2021) Criminological perspectives on school exclusion and youth offending. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, pp. 87 – 100. Available at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13632752.2021.1905233 [Accessed 14th June 2022].
CHSCP (2022). City of London & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership, Available at https://chscp.org.uk/ [Accessed 15th June 2022]
COYL (2022) All Together Now Inclusion not exclusion: supporting all young people to succeed in school, Commission on Young Lives report (April, 2022) Available at https://www.fenews.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/COYL-Education-report-FINAL-APR22.pdf [Accessed 1st June 2022]
Crane, L., Adu, F., Arocas, F., Carli, R., Eccles, S., Harris, S., Jardibe, J., Phillips, C., Piper, S., Santi, L., Sartin, M., Shepherd, C., Sternstein, K. Taylor, G. and Wright, A. (2021). Vulnerable and Forgotten: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Autism Special Schools in England. Frontiers in Education. Available at https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/feduc.2021.629203/full [Accessed 14th June 2022].
Demie, F. (2022). Understanding the Causes and Consequences of School Exclusions: Teachers, Parents and Schools’ Perspectives. Taylor & Francis.
DfE (2021). Permanent exclusions and suspensions in England. Available at https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/permanent-and-fixed-period-exclusions-in-england/2019-20 [Accessed 14th June 2022].
DfE, 2004. Every Child Matters. London: DfE.
Jalongo, M. (2021). The Effects of COVID-19 on Early Childhood Education and Care: Research and Resources for Children, Families, Teachers and Teacher Educators. Early Childhood Education Journal, pp. 1-12. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8142069/ [Accessed 14th June 2022].
Murphy, R., 2022. How children make sense of their permanent exclusion: a thematic analysis from semi-structured interviews. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, pp.1-15. Available at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13632752.2021.2012962 [Accessed 14th June 2022].
Matthew is currently Head of Mathematics, DSL and Digital Lead at an Apple Distinguished primary school in Kent. Matthew is an award-winning teacher, published author, speaker and influencer, with a passion for EDUTech, community collaboration and equal access to education. Matthew has worked in education and youth inclusion projects for over a decade, working in London, Kent, Birmingham and Chicago. As well as supporting families connected with HMPS Belmarsh, Matthew is also a school governor and Trust Associate for ECT and Subject Leadership training. Matthew has peer reviewed for the Chartered College of Teaching and Elsevier.