Let’s halve school exclusions by the end of the decade

Sabrina Jones
Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Our school exclusions system is failing.

Sabrina Jones is the founder of Say It With Your Chest. Picture: Say It With Your Chest
Sabrina Jones is the founder of Say It With Your Chest. Picture: Say It With Your Chest

We have some of the highest rates of exclusions in the world.

School exclusions are not being applied consistently or fairly. Children with special educational needs (SEN), Black Caribbean, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils, and children who are eligible for free school meals are all more likely to be excluded.

Let’s be clear. We don’t argue that schools should never exclude pupils. We recognise that, in the most extreme cases (i.e physical or sexual assault), exclusions may be a necessary and justified response to a pupil’s actions. 

But our argument is simple. Too many children are being excluded from schools. 

The main reason for all exclusions is persistent disruptive behaviour. This therefore indicates that schools are struggling to effectively manage behaviour. We have seen and heard countless examples of avoidable exclusions - where schools are not using exclusions as a genuine last resort or where 1-2-1 support could have helped keep a child within mainstream education.  

This is important because we know that being excluded has profound effects on a child. Excluded pupils get worse grades, experience poorer mental health and have poorer economic prospects later in life. 

And all too often exclusion is the first step on the school to prison pipeline.

Let’s halve school exclusions by 2030

On Friday 28 April 2023, we launched a white paper that outlines a roadmap to halve school exclusions by the end of the decade. 

At the launch event we spoke about how we'd like to see all avoidable exclusions eliminated as part of a ‘close to zero’ exclusions policy. We know this is possible as countries like Scotland and Northern Ireland have been able to achieve these kinds of levels.

But we recognise this won’t happen overnight.

Schools are doing their best with limited resources and balancing multiple, sometimes competing interests.

Halving exclusions in the schools we worked with is something we are proud to have achieved in our five years of existence. But exclusion is a complex, multi-stakeholder problem and with thousands of schools across the country, the issue is bigger than any one organisation. We learnt that there needs to be systematic change.

As we close and reflect on our five years of work, we wanted to share what we learnt would have made a difference. 

We saw that if schools had better access to specialist support for pupils, teachers had effective training on behaviour management, and exclusion was used more consistently across the system, fewer exclusions would have happened.

We hope our report will be of interest to school leaders and teachers in England, policymakers within the Department for Education, those who work with young people at risk of exclusion and education and school improvement teams across local government.

Here are four actions we can take to halve exclusions:

  • Invest in specialist in-school support to support schools to manage challenging behaviour.

  • Ensure all new and existing teachers receive effective behaviour management training.

  • Introduce a more consistent approach to how exclusions are applied across schools by updating guidance on exclusions and providing additional support for schools with high rates of exclusions.

  • Put a stop to  “zero tolerance” behaviour policies. 

We have also created a handbook for schools and professionals working with children at risk of school exclusion which has been informed by the views and experiences of young people. Our handbook is a set of practical resources sharing our lessons for how to work with pupils at risk of exclusion, directly informed by the views and experiences of the young people we worked with over the past five years. It is designed for teachers, support staff, teaching assistants, school leaders, as well as anyone else working with children at risk of exclusion.

Sabrina Jones is the founder of Say It With Your Chest

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