Exclusions should always be the last resort – but is that what’s really happening?

(12 February, 2020) Editorials

Southwark Council hopes it can find ways to prevent exclusions and support families

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The rate of permanent school exclusions in Southwark has risen sharply in the last few years and is now above both London-wide and national averages. And this does not take into account those who have been ‘off-rolled’.

Permanent exclusions are the answer in the most serious cases. One of the main reasons cited for taking such a strong measure is physical attacks on fellow pupils or adults in school, and persistent disruption.

Keeping pupils safe should always be a priority but exclusions – permanent or for a fixed period – are a last resort. 

The decision has huge implications for the student and their families who then have to take on extra childcare struggles and navigate new educational providers or home-schooling.

And those who end up in pupil referral units are known to be particularly vulnerable to gangs and their groomers.

Exclusions are the focus of Southwark Council-led research into the impact on young people currently taking place, in the hope it can find ways to prevent exclusions, and support families going through the experience.

There are however other, no less problematic, ways that children can end up falling through the cracks and these require equal attention, too.

Research by the children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, from 2018, found that there are tens of thousands of children across the country whom “we cannot be certain are being educated at all”.

Some may be in what is known “alternative provision” or home education, but others have been “off-rolled” – often due to poor performance or by families trying to prevent a likely exclusion from appearing on the pupil’s record.

These are effectively exclusions by the back door, and don’t appear in official statistics – and will be much harder to deal with effectively if they are happening in this borough.

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