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Pupils with additional needs ‘unfairly excluded’ says Children’s Society

27 December 2022

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CHILDREN and young people with additional needs are being excluded unfairly from school owing to lack of understanding from professionals, and racism, a new study suggests.

Research by the Children’s Society sought to understand why children with special educational needs or disabilities — known as SEND pupils — are disproportionately more likely to be excluded from mainstream schools. The findings were published this month in the report Youth Voice: SEND and School Exclusion.

The Government’s own figures, published in the summer, showed that SEND children were three times more likely to be excluded than children without additional needs, if they had an additional care plan, and five times more likely if they didn’t have a plan. Pupils with additional needs also had the highest rate of suspensions from school. Latest figures show nearly 1.5 million pupils were identified as having special educational needs or disabilities in England in 2021/22, but one in eight do not have an educational plan.

In the autumn term last year, 2097 pupils were permanently excluded from school.

The Children’s Society said that these young people were more vulnerable to being groomed and sexually exploited.

A small group of 22 students at two London schools, one for pupils with SEND and other an alternative provision school, told researchers of their experiences of prejudice and harsher punishments for pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds. They said that in mainstream schools staff had unrealistic expectations of their ability to communicate, and were not aware how additional needs might affect behaviour. Staff did not take complaints of racism seriously, they reported.

Students said that their behaviour improved in their new educational setting, with smaller classes and support from mentors or staff who listened, treated them like young adults, and offered praise.

The report calls for alternative provision and mainstream schools to share best-practice so that SEND pupils are better supported.

It warns that exclusions often fail to address issues affecting children’s behaviour outside the classroom, and can transfer risks into the community.

The national manager of the Children’s Society’s Disrupting Exploitation programme, Claire Alldis, said: “School exclusions should be a last resort for any child, and it’s a real concern that vulnerable children with additional needs are disproportionately likely to be excluded.

“What children told us was worrying. They spoke of experiences of racism, of staff being too quick to exclude children, not listening, and failing to take their additional needs into account or understand the root causes of their behaviour.

“The vast majority of school staff have the best interests of pupils at heart, but there are systemic issues here which we hope our recommendations will help to address. Children with SEND should not have to be excluded to get the support they need.”

The Children’s Society is calling for more training in SEND awareness and the impact of racism for school staff, and independent advocates to support pupils at risk of exclusion or suspension from school.

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