19 Mar 2012

Bring down school exclusions, children’s commissioner warns

Too many children are being excluded for minor issues such as chewing gum or not wearing uniform, the children’s commissioner for England says.

Dr Maggie Atkinson said that pupils should only be excluded for safety reasons or to prevent disruption to learning.

But she warned that pupils are being exluded for reasons such as wearing the wrong shoes or having the “wrong” haircut. Such reasons, she said, could disadvantage groups on the basis of gender, faith or ethnic group.

Her report showed that 5,740 children were permanently excluded from state schools in 2009 to 2010, and that 179,800 young people were excluded on a fixed term basis at least once during that year.

However the strongest predictor of being excluded from school was having special educational needs, followed by being black Caribbean, for permanent exclusion. For fixed term exclusions, it was being male.

Minor misdemeanours

John Connolly, Dr Atkinson’s principal policy adviser for education, explained: “We are not saying don’t have uniform, we are not saying don’t have rules about personal appearance, what we are saying is don’t remove education for those reasons.

“By all means use detention or internal exclusion or take lunchtime off them…actually what we have found is that is more likely to change behaviour than repeated short-term exclusions any way.”

Dr Atkinson said that it is not appropriate to exclude a pupil on the basis of minor infringements such as wrong coloured shoes or too much make up under current exclusion guidance.

She added that her inquiry had uncovered “compelling evidence” of illegal exclusions, including unrecorded short-term exclusions to allow children to “cool off”.

She said: “Excluding the child simply by saying ‘You are not very happy here, are you? Why don’t you not come back next Monday?’ is unacceptable.

“It is irresponsible. Those working with children who are already vulnerable and may be living in very difficult and complicated and perhaps chaotic households would tell you that if you simply send a child home and you don’t know what you are sending them to, you are in dereliction of your duty, and I would agree.”

A Welsh government spokesperson said: “We commissioned a research project on the experience of unlawful exclusions in Wales, undertaken as a partnership project between SNAP Cymru and Barnardo’s Cymru. The report of the findings of the research was published in June 2011.

“The findings of this report have been taken into consideration in amending the current Welsh Government exclusions guidance. The guidance also takes into consideration new legislative requirements such as the Equality Act 2010 and Reintegration Interview (Wales) Regulations and provides further clarity for schools and local authorities on the correct procedures to follow for exclusions. The revised guidance is due to be published shortly.

“The Welsh government adopted the UNCRC as the basis for policy making for children and young people in Wales in 2004.”