We need a new principle in education: no child should be excluded from school

As dozens of schools are found to suspend 1 in 5 pupils, Jennette Arnold AM argues we need massive investment turn it around.

School exclusions are not an insolvable quandary.

There is great best practice out there focused on keeping children in school.

This is often matched by educational institutions doing whatever they can within their limited means to prevent exclusions. However, without real investment coming forward from central government, even those most willing will struggle to provide the necessary support to those vulnerable children at risk of exclusion.

The number of children and young people being excluded from school has increased by over 25% in just three years.

This is a shocking indictment of an education system that has been cut so drastically it cannot support children and young people who need it most.

Young people who have been permanently excluded from school face unacceptable barriers to educational achievement – only 1.4% of them in London achieve a pass in 5 or more GCSEs including English and Maths, compared to 53.4% of their peers in all schools.

Attitudes towards young people who have been excluded are negative and often demonising – indeed, much of the recent coverage of school exclusions has focused on violent crime.

While it’s true that those who’ve been excluded from school are vastly overrepresented in the criminal justice system, this does not tell the whole story.

Recently, I was lucky enough to visit intervention centres in West London, managed by the TBAP Multi-Academy Trust, which supports children who have been temporarily excluded. The young people in these centres were thriving, and we heard that as many as 92% of children who attend TBAP’s intervention centres are not excluded again, a testament to their great work.

I was especially grateful to the children and young people who were kind enough to talk to us and share their experiences. They told us how much it meant to them that they’d been given a second chance and that staff at the TBAP Centres took time to explain, without anger, why certain behaviours are wrong. This is reflective of the kind of holistic and child-centred approach that makes TBAP so successful at supporting children and young people.

In fact, the centres have this year become ‘trauma informed’, recognising that many, if not most, children and young people who exhibit challenging behaviour will have experienced early-childhood trauma. This is the kind of best practice that I hope to see rolled out to all establishments supporting children and young people who’ve been excluded.

However, in the long term no child or young person should be excluded from school. My visit to the TBAP Education Centres really highlighted how all children and young people can succeed if given the right support.

But mainstream schools have been hit so hard by cuts that they are unable to support the children and young people who need it most.

According to London Councils, London will need an estimated additional £1 billion between 2019/20 and 2022/23, just to meet demand for mainstream places. This does not even cover most of the additional support needed by the most vulnerable children and young people.

These figures make a mockery of the government’s budget promise to allocate £400 million for all schools across the country, to fund ‘little extras’ like whiteboards.

To stop the rising tide of exclusions, schools don’t need little extras, they need real investment.

Jennette Arnold OBE is London Assembly Member for North East London. She is the Assembly’s chair of the Education Panel.

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