Exclusions could deepen inequalities after pandemic

No More Exclusions
Thursday, May 6, 2021

Gavin Williamson’s decision to crack down on ‘bad behaviour’ is an unacceptable, but not unexpected, response to the realities of schooling during the pandemic.

Instead of encouraging empathy and support, Williamson wants students to be punished for struggling to cope with an exceptionally disruptive, uncertain, and traumatic situation. 

This dedication to discipline pins blame entirely on individual students, ignoring the root causes of “bad behaviour”, and serving to further deepen existing inequalities.

“Bad” behaviour doesn’t come from nowhere. It is often a reaction to problems happening in a child’s life, from issues ranging from anxiety and bereavement to hunger and poverty. This was true in pre-pandemic times, but is especially salient now, as the pandemic continues to exacerbate these issues.

Marginalised and racialised students are more likely to experience these disruptive circumstances, owing to systemic inequalities that have been further aggravated by recent government failures. 

From failing to ensure that all children had access to computers or that disadvantaged children were properly fed throughout lockdown, to refusing to address the disproportionate Covid-related deaths of Black and brown people in the UK, the government has had a direct role in the crisis facing marginalised children and young people today. 

  • Should exclusions be banned for the rest of the academic year? Vote in CYP Now’s poll here.

If the government cared about the wellbeing of students, it would be putting its energies into tackling these issues and helping schools to provide support. Instead, the government wants to punish and even criminalise students for having to live with the multifaceted crisis it has helped to create.

We know where a punitive approach like this leads because these tactics are nothing new. School exclusions have been on the rise for the past decade. Indeed, as Williamson worries over the “lost learning” caused by disruptive behaviour in schools, No More Exclusions (NME) is asking where this concern was for the 446,194 children excluded from school between 2018-19, and the learning they inevitably lost out on. 

And while Williamson claims that disruptive behaviour unfairly impacts the education of disadvantaged pupils, and more discipline will therefore benefit these students, we know that the opposite is true. 

Black and brown children, children eligible for free school meals, and children on the special educational needs register face disproportionate levels of exclusion, meaning they feel the negative impacts of school exclusion the most. 

This over-exclusion creates a vicious cycle of inequality, as it damages the future prospects of already disadvantaged students, causing many to fall victim to the school-to-prison pipeline. Williamson’s crackdown on behaviour only ensures more of the same.

A commitment to militaristic discipline will not make schools ‘safe and secure’ for students. Instead, it will cause further harm to the UK’s most vulnerable children by failing to address their needs and compounding existing inequalities. This is why, in the wake of the pandemic and nationwide school closures, NME is calling on the government to implement a moratorium on school exclusions. Safety from exclusion, support from schools, and radical systemic and sectoral change are what children and young people need to survive and thrive during the pandemic and beyond. The last thing they need is more discipline. 

To find out more about the moratorium on school exclusions and what you can do to support it, visit: nomoreexclusions.com/moratorium/

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