Report calls for primary school exclusions to be banned as children as young as five expelled over behaviour
Written by Hitmix News on 29 April 2022
Exclusions from primary schools should be banned within the next four years, a report from the former children’s commissioner has found.
The report from Anne Longfield argues the current system is not working for every child and has left at-risk children being “viewed as a problem”.
It states that some schools “don’t focus on vulnerable children because they don’t feel they have an obligation or responsibility to do so”, and in some cases, a “minority of schools do not feel it is in their interest” to have them in their care at all.
The report also highlights how black children are more likely to be excluded and are subjected to “adultification”, where they are perceived as older than their years and less likely to be vulnerable by teachers and other adults, preventing them from receiving the care and protection.
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5:00 ‘There are no rings of protection’ – Anne Longfield speaking in December
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‘Defiance and violence’
One mother said her son was excluded 17 times from school at the age of five before receiving an autism diagnosis.
“The school said there was defiance and violence, but he was literally tiny,” she told the report.
Another mother said that her son Louie, who has been diagnosed with ADHD, was also first excluded from school when he was five years old.
Mary-Ann, whose name has been changed, explained that before Louie’s diagnosis “typically he would wreck the room he was in” and she would be called into the school to collect him.
But the situation escalated, and he was soon expelled.
“Often I would only just have got home from drop-off in the morning and my phone would go and I’d have to go back to school again. It was exhausting,” she said.
“At first the school dealt with it by excluding him for a few days. However, after one incident when he climbed a steep staircase and threatened to jump off, they decided to expel Louie.
“I was devastated and was constantly ringing up to try and get Louie a new school place. He’s my only child and I wanted him to do well at school.”
‘I can’t send my son here – he’s only five years old’
A few weeks later, Louie was offered a place at a Pupil Referral Unit but Mary-Ann decided to home school him for a term instead.
“When we visited there had been an incident that day so every door was locked behind us,” she said.
“I thought, I can’t send my son here, he’s only five years old. So I refused the place.”
In the report, which was conducted by the Commission on Young Lives, it states that primary school children should not be permanently excluded at all and calls for the end of the term Pupil Referral Unit, which it described as an “a throwback to a bygone age”.
It also notes that some schools have used tactics such as managed moves, off-rolling, exclusions, or encouraging families to pursue “home education” when it comes to dealing with vulnerable children.
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It said it can “surely be no coincidence” that the majority of exclusions take place in years 10 and 11, when pupils sit GCSE exams that will impact the school’s position in league tables.
Mary-Ann explained that a school place was eventually found for Louie and “things went really well” but within a year he was “excluded many times for his behaviour”.
After being referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), Louie started having weekly sessions, his school put an educational plan in place and he was receiving one-to-one support.
But when he was nine years old there was another incident at school and since then Mary-Ann’s relationship with his school has “gone downhill”.
“When I arrived at school, Louie was in the reflection room with the headteacher and deputy head. He was still smashing it up when I walked in,” she said.
“Finally, I went to my GP in tears and asked for help. That’s when Louie was diagnosed with ADHD. I thought everything would be wonderful after this and we’d get the support we needed but the issues at school still continued.”
Louie now only attends school for two hours a day.
Exclusions are a ‘trigger point’ where children become more vulnerable to criminal or sexual exploitation
Ms Longfield’s report has called for Ofsted to introduce a new inclusion measure, with schools that are not inclusive unable to receive a “good” or “outstanding” rating.
It added that schools should report how many pupils have been excluded or moved from their rolls every year.
Looking at the impact of exclusions, the report notes that youth workers, parents, and children have recounted how being excluded was a “trigger point” where pupils became more vulnerable to criminal activity, sexual exploitation or involvement in county lines.
‘Strip-searched at school’
“The recent abhorrent treatment of Child Q, a teenage girl who was left traumatised after being strip-searched at school by Met police officers while on her period, is a recent shocking example of how adultification can happen in educational settings,” the report says.
It adds that adultification “can manifest itself by black students being disproportionately targeted by ‘draconian’ zero-tolerance behaviour and uniform policies in schools”.
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1:01 Child Q: ‘Black girls should feel safe in school’
‘Look behind the headlines’
Ms Longfield said: “Look behind the headlines of the tragic deaths, acts of serious violence and criminal exploitation of our young people over recent years and so often you see a pattern of children disengaging and falling out of school and into harm.
Image: Anne Longfield says schools should not be able to receive a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ grade from Ofsted without hitting new targets on including vulnerable pupils
“Not all children who leave mainstream school will be affected but the statistics show that too many will – even more so if the child has special educational needs or is black.
“A system that has no real accountability for a five-year-old boy being excluded 17 times in a year, or where a vulnerable teenager is out of school for months or even years, is not a system that is working for every child.”
The Department for Education has said that exclusion and suspension are “necessary and essential behaviour management tools” and it is working to “tackle avoidable absence” from school.