How children are impacted by school exclusions and expulsions.
Exclusions have been a method of managing extremely poor behaviour in school since schools existed. But how effective are they, and what is the wider impact on the child, the school and the family?
Let’s start by looking at the size of the issues, and how it benefits all parties involved.
The statistics actually suggest that exclusion is actually extremely ineffective in creating any positive change in most children. Here is some approved UK based data to give you a wider picture.
Strangely the reasons you would expect for an authority with higher exclusions (denser population, socio-economics etc) are actually not as connected as you might expect. The highest exclusion rates sometimes sit in sleepy rural areas, noted to have lower crime rates and better access to services. Yet, exclusions are higher, mental health is lower and schools seem in some cases unable to manage behaviours which would by many schools be deemed as ‘normal’. In some cases it can be argued that the income per family is lower, however this is not consistently true, and certainly doesn’t explain the bizarre patterns across the country.
So does it come down to the effectiveness of each authority in providing holistic and well planned services, which are properly funded and held accountable for results? When you consider that some authorities overspend by millions, and seem unable to then provide any acceptable level of service due to the stringent belt tightening required to recoup these massive errors, we start to wonder who holds the authorities accountable for the issues in their individual areas.
So who do exclusions benefit?
I spent 5 years running schools for extremely challenging and vulnerable children, and over this time I was required to hand out many fixed term exclusions (no – I never needed to permanently excluded anyone), and one thing I can absolutely assure you of – is that no parent EVER thanked my for it. I dealt with parents who had to take a day off work, had to ask elderly relatives to look are their wayward children, and cried as they told me yet again that this wasn’t helping their child.
Not one parent told me that they felt better knowing their child was at home.
Occasionally a parent would have to concede that whilst they did not like the situation, their child may be safer away from school for a day whilst we worked to de-escalate a fight, a bullying situation or give a child a chance to reflect and prepare to restore. But no parent believed that it was being done in the best interest of their child.
So it’s pretty clear that the current exclusion system doesn’t help parents.
So does it help the child?
In the examples I gave I worked in organizations with extremely violent children, and we had to use exclusions where safety had become an issue. But we didn’t use them punitively, and we didn’t use them as a blanket approach to certain behaviours unless they were unsafe. We dealt daily with many more minor issues without sending a child home.
Perhaps this was easier for us knowing that many of our children were actually safer in school with us than out roaming the streets looking for mischief, but we were still able to use methods to help the children take responsibility for their mistakes without excluding them from their entitled education. We also, overtime, taught these pupils how to stop avoiding their issues (often why they attempted to get excluded in the first place) and work through challenges.
I had many conversations with children who were so used to getting excluded that they would verbalize it directly to me “well I’ll just keep doing it until you exclude me”. My response was always – I care enough about you to try and help not to do that. I couldn’t promise I wouldn’t, after all some of my children would gladly punch a teacher if it meant not having to cope with their anxiety at school for 5 more hours. BUT, all these children were trying to prove to themselves that they were not worthy of our time, our love, and I continually did not allow them to reach that conclusion.
We know from countless research papers that even temporary exclusions have a negative impact on the mental wellbeing of a child. Have you ever started a new job only to fee like you don’t fit in to begin with? Feels rubbish right? Try having your entire society excluded you.
We also know that over half of prisoners report being excluded from school. Thus, excluding children is an extremely cost risky way of managing poor behaviour.
Those with exclusions are also known to achieve lower results in assessment, have more self-esteem problems and develop more anti-social behaviours.
So, whilst we acknowledge that sometimes safety must take priority, there seems to be little other benefit for the child. Certainly, if one exclusion doesn’t jump-start a child’s compliance with the rules of the establishment, then repeated exclusions seem to only worsen the outcomes for the child.
So what about the school?
I’m likely to stir some feathers here, and I’m not sorry. In fact, it’s well overdue. What I will do is speak with care, and without naming individual schools or counties who are mismanaging pupils.
Yes, there is a need to have a cut off point – because some children are unsafe, or will prevent other children from learning and reaching their potential. Sadly no matter how inclusive we get this is always likely to be the case.
I think there is a huge argument for having a more inclusive way of managing ‘non mainstream’ children- and actually some schools and authorities do this incredibly well! I was privileged to spend some time in a huge academy in Harrow, where the inclusion unit was literally a central column in the school, and could be dipped in and out of as much as was needed over the years of secondary education. Children needing behavioural and emotional support were seen as the core of the school, and therefore were not ‘excluded’ but ‘included and integrated’.
Meaning that almost no exclusions were ever needed, because nurture was always available. If only all local authorities could look at taking on a model which provides such deeply inclusive approaches to challenging children.
Comparatively, I have worked with schools who believe it is acceptable to exclude a child for swearing, smoking, and singular mistakes. I have observed zero-tolerance policies take children who are perfectly capable of managing mainstream education and place them in units filled with extremely vulnerable children engaged in drug use, youth crime and managing total dis-engagement from education. Do you think those children improved their outcomes from sharing classes with severely challenging children? I recall the feelings of sadness every time I saw a child who had made one stupid mistake – arrive at their new school/unit with panic shown in wide eyes as they surveyed their new peer group.
I saw tens of exclusions every year for ‘assaulting a teacher’, upon investigation, most of these were found to actually be pushing past a teacher, after that teacher has blocked an exit and made a child feel trapped. Is the singular teacher to blame? No – no I do not. There are articles, research papers and official advisors to the government pushing for improved behaviour management training for teachers over the last 10 years. In fact Tom Bennett (advisor to the DfE for behaviour in schools) wrote in 2017 about the need to stop the haphazard approach to behaviour management in schools.A shocking 2/5ths of teachers rate their training in behaviour as ‘poor’ upon qualifying. How can we expect teachers who are under immense workloads and pressures to know how to manage a difficult child unless somebody actually trains them?As a professional who has taught, and understands the links between behaviour, engagement and learning, I find it staggering that this is not the foundations for all teacher training!
Let’s look at school leadership. And brace yourselves for some more feather ruffling!
Before I get out my soap box, I’ll take a second to remind you that I do not speak of all schools, or all authorities — I know that some areas are exceptionally good at managing their exclusion issues!
That said: I once sat in a room with a local authority who shall remain nameless, who were adamantly telling me that their schools ONLY excluded based on the individual behaviour of an individual child. What ensued was an evidence informed rant from me, and some red faces around the table, as I told them……
“If that were the case, I would not be able to identify trends – because they would for the main part not exist. Yet – I can tell you that:
Primary exclusions increase by several hundred percent after the October half term (for those of you not in the education world, this is the point at which the school gets to keep the whole years funding even if they exclude the child
Year 2 and year 6 exclusions increase between February and April, and consist almost exclusively of children who will not reach their expected SATS grade in Summer of that year.
Year 11 exclusions happen through November to early Jan, with an influx just before census week.
Exclusions of year 11 children are almost exclusively this who will not reach their Progress 8 data point, and will therefore impact the schools overall rating.
Key stage 3 exclusions tend to fall at the start and end of the year.
GCSE children with EAL are more likely to get excluded just before exams.
Only a TINY percentage of children who are excluded would actually have met their expected levels. In fact, in one year where I personally managed over 380 exclusions, not ONE SINGLE CHILD was assessed as being above at the upper end of average, or above the expected level.”
Red faces indeed!
Is it fair then to assume that a school can find more tolerance, or other ways to manage the behaviour of children who are better for their school ratings? Yes – you heard those feathers shuffling.
What’s also worth considering, is whether the exclusion is cost effective, or even beneficial to the school.
For a vast number of children exclusion does not support learning to conform. And for those who it does not, there is lasting and often irretrievable damage done to relationships with the school staff, and the schools relationship with the family. This is likely to cause more poor behavioural choices, as the child seeks to validate their lack of worth in this mini-society. Behaviour can worsen, and schools run out of strategies to try. Excluding too early is the equivalent of showing your hand a poker after the second round, you are literally out of moves. So long term, fixed term exclusions are a gamble, if effective they may prevent a child from worsening, if ineffective, they are likely to cost in staff time, pupil outcomes, intervention cost, school data, family relationships etc etc etc.
Overall, our findings so far are not exactly singing the positive results of using exclusion to actually improve the child’s behaviour, their outcomes, or even the better running of the school.
So what can we actually do to support our children when they become exclusion-likely due to increasingly poor behaviours.
From an educational point of view there is an element of being a the mercy of the local authority, and wider DfE policies and objectives.
Schools under huge pressure to attain results are more susceptible to practices which exclude those who ‘get in the way’. That said behaviour training is not hard to deliver – and vast improvements could be made in every school by prioritising behaviour training for all staff, particularly in the management of disengaged children who are each higher risk of exclusion as they get older.
Better relationships between schools and families would allow for extended opportunities for early intervention. Some schools are now offering behaviour management workshops for parents, with positive results.
Parents can also provide some great support for children, by talking to them about consequences, both short term and long term.
Some of the children I worked with were stunned when the final exclusion went through. They actually thought that it was a bluff and they would never actually end up where they did!
Others, didn’t care by the time it came around, as they had been excluded so many times temporarily that in their eyes they knew the school didn’t care about them.
In both cases, parents taking the time to talk about life ambitions, what kind of person they wanted to become and how to manage periods of stress and anxiety would have had a hugely beneficial impact on the child. Schools who involve parents early are much less likely to end up excluding as many children. Spoke to literally hundreds of parents who didn’t even know their child had become at risk of exclusion – so where was the early intervention?
Here are some really easy to follow tips to help parents who are concerned:
Realistically, schools are not in a position to provide the level of family support and early intervention needed to prevent all children from becoming at risk of exclusion. We know that home and school working together is effective. Shared information, joint planning and child centred work are all extremely effective. But it takes funding, and staff who understand child behaviour and ‘how’ to translate their behaviours into the unmet need, fear, emotional challenge or issue a child is experiencing.
There is no quick fix, sadly those creating the changes in our education system are not yet accountable enough for failing to meet the needs of so many. Local authorities are not governed enough to prevent the use of poor and ineffective models for managing excluded children, and the funding stripped from youth services has pushed many social issues into the school grounds.
Most of all – staff need to have the time and the right to prioritise relationships with their students. Every single child I have ever worked with told me about ‘that one staff member who believed in me’ – if they had more of these, we could have talked them out of that behaviour before it became an issue which would change their lives.
Change will need to be led from the top, and cushioned by effective services on the sides to contain our issue and provide effective alternative routes.
If you are a parent who believes their child’s behaviours make them at risk of exclusion Empowered Parents runs services to support you.
Empowered Parents can also run staff training on the ethos of effective behaviour management.