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The more focus on the impact of school exclusions the better

01 March, 2019

The Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield

IT is not just the ethnicity and social background of pupils that matter when it comes to exclusions, but also the process in which they are being handled.

The rules governing exclu­sions from schools, academies and pupil referral units in this country are defined by the Education Act 2002.

It gives headteachers powers to exclude pupils on a fixed or permanent basis. Fixed-term exclusions can range from lunchtime bans to anything up to 45 school days in a single academic year. In exceptional cases, usually where further evidence has come to light, this can be extended. Permanent exclusions, which remove a child from the school’s roll, follow an independent review.

The headteacher must in these cases apply the civil standard of proof – that “on the balance of probabilities” an offence has been committed.

They must consider contributing factors, for example whether a child has suffered a bereavement. Are mental health issues or special education needs a significant factor? Has there been a history of bullying?

Some parents may feel as if their children are guilty until proven innocent. The process will be very upsetting, difficult and worrying time for a child.

Establishing blame – to a legal threshold – requires a forensic approach. Are schools properly equipped to manage a complex this process?

Time is a commodity for headteachers, who are already hamstrung by managing the scarce resources afforded to them.

There is a funding crisis in our education system. It is real and it is making it increasingly difficult for schools to adequately address the needs of students in many ways.

Camden’s National Education Union, formerly the National Union of Teachers, has repeatedly warned that cuts to funding and young people’s services is the single biggest factor in increased youth crime.

Higher rates of exclusion will be matched by higher than average rates of deprivation.  Many children being educated in Camden secondary schools have come from difficult backgrounds. In some cases, with no background in educa­tion. This will always make settling into school difficult.

Anyone that looks deeper into the issue does will, no doubt, find bias in terms of the type of children who are excluded. Few appear willing to confront the issue head on, because it is such an enormous subject. It is for that reason that we welcome Anne Longfield into the fold. She sets out her stall clearly, and appears well aware of the issues and damaging impact exclusions can have. Her work may, in the future, bring about a greater focus for local authorities.

Cllr Angela Mason is right that Camden’s Youth Taskforce is doing excellent work in this area. Few other councils are scratching the surface. But this should not detract from the scope of the scrutiny panel, led by Cllr Samata Khatoon.

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