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School exclusions are ‘putting children at risk of harm’, Children’s Society reports

21 May 2021

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SCHOOL exclusions are leaving some children and young people at increased risk of harm, a report from the Children’s Society has found.

The charity’s report Youth Voice on School Exclusions published last month found that challenges such as being moved into care, learning disabilities, knife crime, child exploitation, and experiences of bullying and racism could all affect children’s behaviour in school, leading to their exclusion.

Some young people reported that they were exposed to drugs and criminal exploitation in alternative-provision settings, and that feeling bored at home, and closures of community facilities such as youth clubs, left them vulnerable to advances by those looking to exploit them. They felt that this situation could have been avoided had they had support to remain in school, with help to address the issues affecting their behaviour.

Decisions to remove them from mainstream classwork were too often taken without attempting to understand and address those issues, the report states. Many felt that they were “written off” and not listened to.

Its findings are based on conversations with 11 young people, who said that exclusions had affected their learning, leaving them feeling isolated and uncared for, and having an impact on their relationships at home, self-esteem, hope for the future, well-being, and mental health.

The children suggested that school staff should take more time to listen to them and understand the problems that caused the disruption. One srespondent aid that teachers should try to connect more with students to show they were “going an extra mile and it’s not just a job”. Another said that exclusion “doesn’t help, and it’s lazy”.

The Children’s Society is urging schools to adopt four principles to make them inclusive for all children: listening to young people; being flexible and taking into account children’s individuality; building and nurturing positive relationships; and acknowledging power imbalances between teachers and children and giving pupils a voice in decisions affecting them.

The national programme manager for the charity’s Disrupting Exploitation Programme, Lucy Dacey, said: “Being excluded from school can harm not only children’s learning but also their safety, well-being and life chances. Many of the children we support because they have been groomed into crimes like dealing drugs in county lines operations have been excluded from school or are at risk of exclusion.

“It’s therefore vital that schools do everything possible to identify and address issues in children’s lives which may be affecting their behaviour. As well as digging deeper when pupils misbehave, we want school leaders to ensure school systems and rules take account of the fact that some pupils will experience challenges in their lives which are likely to affect their learning and well-being.

“Rather than seeing vulnerable young people as outliers who do not ‘fit’ the system, we want schools to change where necessary to ensure they are more inclusive and supportive.”

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