Exclusions often lead to poor academic results, reduced life chances and extreme stress placed on families who see pupil referral units and other types of alternative provision as an educational scrapheap.
Students who are sent to referral units are much more likely to end up in the criminal justice system. Their cohort is over-represented in prison.
These units are also a known hunting ground for gangs looking to groom youngsters to do their dirty work.
The fact that a majority of students in this type of setting from Southwark have some kind of special educational need is shocking in itself – let alone when you consider the disproportionate representation of children from minority backgrounds.
If we take the starting point that all children are inherently vulnerable and in need of help and support regardless of the type of behaviour they may or may not engage in at school, we then see that writing off children is a completely outdated approach. But it’s not just schools keen to off-roll or exclude to boost their figures who are at fault – they are inheriting a problem that builds up over years of inadequate support for families in crisis.
Southwark Council’s commission into exclusions has been held precisely because as a local authority it has little control over the system, but is left to cope with many of the failings from a lack of early years support.
Furthermore, today’s confusing school system means students’ experiences are largely determined by their provider – whether academy, free school, foundation, faith school, private school or otherwise. To achieve zero permanent exclusions, these schools and larger chains will have to work together and allow a degree of interrogation and intervention in how they are run – potentially against their own ethos of greater independence and control.
Alternative provision costs, per year in London, around £24,000 for a single pupil. Some will turn their lives around and go on to do great things. But for those who do become young offenders, it can cost £100,000 or more to incarcerate them in specialist institutions – more than going to Eton. It’s a huge waste of time and money considering how few go on to gain any real qualifications, but do end up in the ‘pipeline to prison’.
Any further investment in those first few years and at primary age will ultimately reap dividends for schools and pupils alike. In the meantime, high achieving and successful academy chains need to look hard at their exclusion policies and ask whether any pupil really deserves to be on the scrapheap.