School Exclusions: why they matter and what we’re doing to prevent them

A lively debate was sparked recently by a tube poster campaign, launched on the Northern Line on GCSE results day 2018. The campaign (led by young activists from South London), showed a route from “school to prison”, representing the journey a child is likely to follow if they’re excluded from school. This campaign  highlighted the gap in attainment and life chances between excluded children and their peers who remained in mainstream education.

Following the campaign, many people have questioned the validity of the data and the assumptions behind the claims being made. Given that Khulisa sees school exclusion as a key turning point in a child’s life (and very often, a significant indicator that a young person may become involved in crime in later life), we felt it important to explain our position on this and to share our support for this campaign.

Why we care about school exclusions

  1. School exclusions are rising rapidly.  During 2016-17, there were more than 40 permanent exclusions a day (up from 35 a day the previous year). Fixed-term or temporary exclusions also increased, to a total of 382,000 – meaning nearly one in 20 pupils were given a fixed-period exclusion (DfE, 2018).  Ofsted claim that circa 25% of the GCSE cohort is excluded (‘off-rolling’) to avoid affecting attainment metrics.
  2. Vulnerable children are more likely to be excluded.  Excluded children are much more likely to have multiple and complex needs, they are: twice as likely to be in care; 4 times more likely to have grown up in poverty; 7 times more likely to have a special educational need and 10 times more likely to suffer from a recognised mental health illness (IPPR, 2017).
  3. Excluding a child does not address the root cause of their problem.  We know that the most common reason for school exclusion is persistent disruptive behaviour. Our experience is that this behaviour is symptomatic of an unmet or unrecognised need that a young person is communicating through disruptive or antisocial behaviour. The most common need associated with excluded children is social, emotional and mental ill health (Council for Disabled Children, 2017).
  4. Outcomes for excluded children are poor.  Only 1% of excluded pupils will go on to achieve 5 good GCSE grades and children who are excluded from school by age 12 are 4 times more likely to be imprisoned as an adult (University of Edinburgh, 2013). Prevention is better than cure, a report published by Crisis, found that being excluded from school was a key ‘trigger’ leading to homelessness and children who have been excluded from school are 90 times more likely to be living on the streets.
  5. Not dealing with the root cause of a child’s poor behaviour costs the taxpayer billions of pounds.  Every cohort of permanently excluded pupils will go on to cost the state an extra £2.1 billion in education, health, benefits and criminal justice costs.  (IPPR, 2017)
  6. Poor behaviour and repeated exclusions is impacting on teacher wellbeing.  A 2013 study found that as a result of disruptive behaviour in classrooms, 42% of staff were struggling with stress and “almost 25% said they had lost confidence” (Youngminds, 2013). These classroom conditions will inevitably have a negative impact on all students, and contributes to poor staff retention/turnover.

What we do to prevent exclusions

We deliver our programme called ‘Face It‘ in mainstream schools and pupil referral units, working with the most disruptive pupils. Due to their behavioural challenges, these young people are often at high risk of exclusion or re-exclusion from school.  We work with our school partners over a number of years and we support the most vulnerable children; they begin to understand and identify the root causes for their negative behaviours through both 1-1 sessions and group workshops, delivered by our therapeutically trained facilitators.

We also train parents, carers, teachers and other professionals working in schools. We help them to better understand relational and developmental trauma and share a range of techniques to manage disruptive behaviour. We help them to cope with the inevitable compassion fatigue and stress that comes with working in such high pressured environments with children with multiple and complex needs.

You can read more about our methodology and why we work this way, here.

Our Impact

With our help, young people are able to understand and respond more positively to the triggers which are making them behave negatively. As well as becoming more self-aware, they grow in confidence and motivation, they develop improved executive functioning skills (e.g. planning, making decisions, prioritising, problem-solving) – which all have a positive impact on their behaviour and their ability to engage fully in their education.

An external evaluation of our ‘Face It’ programme (including data for 103 pupils) found that 98% improved their behaviour and there was a 90% reduction in disruptive incidents. The report also found that our programme decreases anger and hostility and has a positive impact on how young people respond to stressful events. Our own internal evaluations indicate that our programmes are linked to a 50% reduction in re-exclusion; many young people make a successful and sustained re-integration to mainstream education after completing our programme.

Throughout our work we focus on developing emotional wellbeing because these are the life skills that will empower a young person to function effectively in society. There is consistent international evidence that social and emotional education reduces mental health issues, prevents criminal behaviour and promotes not only academic achievement, but lifelong learning and success (Cefai et al., 2018; PHE, 2017; WHO, 2012). The positive impacts of quality social and emotional education in schools are proven to persist over time and deliver strong economic and financial returns on investment (Cefai et al., 2018), with Public Health England reporting a cost benefit ratio of 5:1 (PHE, 2017).

Our recommendations

The school to prison line suggests that the key determiner in more positive outcomes for young people is empathy. For Khulisa, we know empathy to be central to helping a young person change their behaviour; empathy from teachers and other adults and empathy amongst young people themselves (proven to be “the single greatest inhibitor of the development of propensity to violence”, The Wave Report 2005).  To promote empathy, we suggest it is critical to provide emotional wellbeing support rather than resorting to repeated forms of exclusion.  As such, we would like to see the following changes to the UK education system:

  1. Social and emotional wellbeing support should be central to the provision for young people in schools and children’s wellbeing should be a key performance measure for all schools
  2. Training on the impact of trauma on a child’s ability to learn and develop should be mandatory for all education professionals; this topic should also be better understood and reflected in UK policy making

The level of funding available, and the training offered to educational professionals is not keeping up with the increasing complexity of needs amongst young people in our schools.  This is having a significant and detrimental impact on the quality of provision we offer, affecting all children but particularly for our most vulnerable students. It’s time we invested in the future of our young people and support those who are responsible for enabling children to become thriving, positive members of society.

What can you do to help?

Until the 16th September 2018, Channel 4 News TV Presenter Jon Snow is helping us to raise funds for our Face It Programme which you can support and read more about on the BBC Website, here. You can also read and share some of the young people whose lives have been changed by the Face It programme, here.

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