Mainstream schools need to be more accountable for the children they exclude in a bid to break the link between school exclusions and knife crime.
That is the key message from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Knife Crime, supported by Barnardo's and youth charity Redthread, which calls an end to part-time education for excluded pupils.
Chair of the APPG, and MP for Croydon Central, Sarah Jones said: “The number of children being excluded from school and locked out of opportunities is a travesty. Often these children have literally nowhere to go. They are easy pickings for criminal gangs looking to exploit vulnerable children.
“Excluding children must be a last resort. But we hear all too often of schools stretched too thin to provide the wrap-around support struggling children need. Cash-strapped councils can’t manage the increasing number of excluded children in need of alternative education.
“Our fight against this knife crime epidemic must start from the principle that no child is left behind. Schools and local authorities must be supported by government to do this," she added.
The APPG is urging a government-led review to examine why many excluded children
do not get the full-time education they are legally entitled to.
Permanent exclusions have risen by 70 per cent since 2012 and the APPG’s own research found a third of local authorities in England do not have spaces in their pupil referral units (PRUs) for excluded children.
Those who do secure places are sometimes only taught for a couple of hours each day, with a restricted curriculum of just English and Maths.
There has been a significant rise in both permanent and fixed-period exclusions for English schools over the last five years. In 2017/18 in England there were 7,900 permanent exclusions – a 70 percent increase since 2012/13. School exclusion is more likely to affect certain groups of young people than others. Young people who receive free school meals are about four times more likely to be permanently excluded from school; and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are over five times more likely to be excluded permanently.
Exclusion rates are also higher in areas of high social deprivation. Among pupils going to school in the 10 percent most deprived areas, the permanent exclusion rate is 0.12 percent compared with 0.07 percent for those going to school in the 10 percent least deprived areas.
In addition to the official statistics on fixed and permanent exclusions, there remains a concern that the figures are likely to represent only part of the problem. The APPG investigation suggested that many believe there are still a number of ‘unofficial’ exclusions where pupils have been ‘off rolled’ – meaning a child is removed from school without using a permanent exclusion, however, this problem is difficult to quantify since much remains hidden.
Another concern identified through the work of the APPG were the stories of young people who were not officially excluded but have been placed in isolation with very little educational input.
The APPG found:
- Although all pupils are legally entitled to full-time education six days after an exclusion, ‘too often this is not happening’.
- Children said lack of classroom time increases their risk of criminal exploitation and involvement in violence.
- There is a ‘disturbing correlation’ between children excluded from school and those involved in ‘county lines’ gang exploitation .
- Some schools are expelling pupils because they are struggling to find the resources to support children and manage their behaviour .
- Increasingly schools are being too hasty in excluding children for minor misbehaviour due to the flawed school rankings system and Ofsted inspection regime
Barnardo’s Chief Executive, Javed Khan said: “Children excluded from school are often amongst the most vulnerable in our society At Barnardo’s we see every day how adverse childhood experiences - from domestic abuse to parental mental health problems - can lead to challenging behaviour and ultimately expulsion.
“As a former maths teacher I know how hard it can be to meet these children’s needs but we must work together to help keep more children in the classroom.
“We know that exclusion too often leads to a ‘poverty of hope’ - reducing a child’s chance of gaining good qualifications and entering the workplace. With PRUs regarded as a recruiting ground for criminal gangs, it’s no surprise children taught there are vulnerable to involvement in drugs and violent crime.
“As a society it’s time we took action. Exclusions must be a last resort, and alternative education provision must be full time, high quality, and properly resourced.
“Above all it’s time to change the culture so children can’t just be excluded - unseen and unheard. Government, education, police, charities and communities must work together to help give these children a positive future," he added.
The report is calling for school rankings and results to take account of all pupils, including those they exclude. All excluded children must have access to the full time education they are legally entitled to - too many do not currently get this.
All education providers must have the funding and backing they need to support vulnerable children and schools must be recognised for the central role they play in a multi-agency response to keeping children safe, with funding to support this work
Everyone working in the education sector must be trained to understand vulnerability and trauma. Best practice should be identified and spread, the report adds.
Schools should be supported to focus on prevention and early intervention and every council should have a leader responsible for children excluded from school.
Redthread Chief Executive, John Poyton said: “We know that young people who are excluded from school have often experienced a range of challenges in their lives. To keep these children safe, professionals must support them around these vulnerabilities, not use exclusion as the first port of call when faced with them.
“Good alternative provision is underpinned by an understanding of vulnerability and trauma- informed approaches, and for a small minority of young people this is the therapeutic space they need. But too often exclusion serves only to exacerbate a child’s vulnerabilities, and leaves them open to exploitation.
“To prevent unnecessary exclusions we must ensure a trauma informed approach is integrated into practice in both mainstream education, children’s social care as well as across the youth work sector," he concluded.
‘Back to School? Breaking the link between school exclusions and knife crime’