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Education secretary urged to protect children from exploitation

The Secretary of State for Education has been urged by a coalition of 12 children’s charities led by Just for Kids Law to introduce guidance on exclusions and behaviour in a bid to protect vulnerable children facing school exclusion from child criminal exploitation.

The children’s charities including NSPCC, The Children’s Society, and Barnardo’s, have sent a letter to the Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, urging Statutory Guidance on Exclusions and Guidance on Behaviour to protect vulnerable children.

“We know from our work that excluding children from school can often make them more vulnerable to CCE and statistics show a clear connection between exclusion from school and entry into the youth justice system – more than 8 out of 10 children in custody have been excluded. Yet the current draft guidance for schools fails to include sufficient safeguards to protect these vulnerable children,” said the letter.

The coalition highlights the recent Safeguarding Review of ‘Child Q’ which expressed concern that government guidance on ‘Searching, screening and confiscation’ could be strengthened by including much stronger reference to the primary need to safeguard children. The charities believe that a focus on safeguarding is equally important in guidance to schools on exclusions and behaviour.

  • How school exclusions entrench CCE:
  • Exploiters will often engineer a child’s exclusion, including coercing victims to carry drugs or weapons into school to get them excluded.
  • Being out of school and on the streets increases children’s risk of exploitation.
  • Children are more likely to be exposed to CCE outside of mainstream school. Many children told the coalition that their first exposure to criminal gangs took place in alternative provision after they had been excluded from mainstream education. 
  • Being excluded often leaves children feeling rejected and unwanted by the education system and exploiters often prey on these feelings.

A child who commits an offence because they are a victim of exploitation is rightly able to have those circumstances recognised as part of their defence in the criminal courts. Worryingly, there is no equivalent protection for children who face being excluded from school in the same circumstances, despite the lifelong consequences for the child.

The coalition is urging two amendments to the Statutory Exclusions Guidance and Behaviour Guidance:

  • That it includes better information for teachers on how to spot the warning signs and risk factors for CCE, including reference to the government’s own guidance.
  • For both headteachers and governing bodies to consider whether a child at risk of exclusion may be showing risk factors for exploitation as part of their decision to exclude.

Louise King, Director of Policy and Campaigns at Just for Kids Law said: “It’s crucial that, when headteachers are faced with the decision about whether to exclude a child, they take into consideration what might be happening in that child’s life, including the possibility that their behaviour is a result of child criminal exploitation.

“Our suggested changes to Department for Education guidance will help ensure that schools meet their safeguarding duties and break the cycle of exploitation by allowing a vulnerable child to stay in school. We urge the government to make these straightforward amendments to keep children safe,” she concluded.

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