Preventing and reducing exclusions

Who is excluded, and which groups of young people are over-represented in the exclusion statistics, tells us about inequality and social exclusion in society. There are many policy decisions made at national level which impact on whether we are building the capacity of the education system to ensure inclusion.

Affirming young people and their backgrounds, and ensuring the curriculum is relevant and accessible, is vital in reducing exclusions, but so is investing in staff development and creating a research-informed profession.

National support

We think that proper support for children and young people at risk of exclusion requires:

  • greater funding for students on pupil premium, students with SEND and looked after children.
  • reversal to the education cuts which have forced schools and colleges to reduce pastoral systems.
  • dedicated posts in schools for mentors, counsellors and family support workers to ensure individual support and positive relationships with a named staff member.
  • a flexible curriculum, relevant and properly representative of a diverse Britain.
  • multi-agency working with a team around each child at risk of exclusion.
  • collaboration between mainstream schools and pupil referral units, because staff in alternative provision are a repository of expertise and skills which can be offered to mainstream schools.

The NEU wants to shape the future of the education system and to prevent and reduce exclusions. We want to highlight, explore and raise awareness of the inequalities and patterns of discrimination which affect who is excluded – including poverty, racism, stereotypes about gender and LGBT+ students, and the patterns of SEND. We want to provide materials and advice to help NEU members reflect on these issues in their setting and develop collaborative responses, which value staff safety and agency for children and young people.

Zero tolerance approach to behaviour management

'Zero tolerance' can sound appealing and effective in terms of an approach to achieving consistent practice across a school. Ensuring staff feel safe at work is vital, and creating a positive learning environment is the right goal. However, there is evidence that zero tolerance approaches can drive up exclusions, and the race and class disparities regarding who is excluded are concerning. It does not support young people to stay engaged in education or develop the skills they need.

Pinball Kids; what are the systemic causes of rising exclusions?

In 2020, the RSA worked with the Esmee Fairburn Foundation to explore why there has been a 60% increase in the number of pupils permanently excluded from England’s schools over a five-year period. The report explored the causes of rising exclusions; including wider societal factors; direct consequences of deliberate policy making; and unintended consequences of policy making.

The NEU agrees with the conclusions of the report. It concluded that, to reduce unnecessary exclusions, we need to address the systemic causes of rising exclusions and to create the conditions, within schools, which allow schools to hold onto, and meet the pastoral and learning needs of, at-risk children. Indeed, pastoral and learning needs are inextricably linked, and have a reciprocal relationship. One interesting suggestion from the research was that schools should make it clear that exclusion is an option available to the school rather than stating that it is a sanction for a pre-specified list of behaviours.

We support the following recommendations from that report:

  • The Government should invest in multi-agency teams to support preventative work by head teachers. Area based teams of mental health, social care, youth work and criminal justice professionals should work together to help head teachers support pupils at risk of exclusion.
  • The Government should create a ‘what works’ fund to assess the impact of promising approaches to reduce exclusions.
  • The DFE should ensure that progression routes for school staff recognise the importance of pastoral work. Pastoral leadership should be embedded within the framework for the National professional Qualification for Headship
  • The DfE should issue clear ‘fair access’ guidance that ensures all schools and agencies engage with fair access processes and removes academies’ right of refusal over pupils placed via fair access systems.
  • The DFE should ensure that we know where every child and young person is in the education system by mandating that the date and reason for all managed moves and transitions to home education are recorded on school information systems before pupils can be removed from the school roll.   

The RSA report identified the conditions for change. The NEU supports these 5 conditions for change which connect with the vision of education that we must create:

  1. Every child has a strong relationship with a trusted adult in school.
  2. Every child’s parents or carers are engaged in partners in their education.
  3. Every child attends a school with an inclusive ethos.
  4. Every pupil is assessed early and continuously for learning and social and emotional needs and appropriate support can be provided.
  5. We know where every child is in the system.

Intervening to prevent and reduce the exclusion of Black students 

  • Black Caribbean pupils are permanently excluded from school at three times the rate of White British pupils (DfE Timpson Review, 2019)
  • Gypsy Roma and Traveller children are permanently excluded at five times the rate of White British pupils.

Schools can make a difference and must create spaces and professional opportunities to consider, and respond to, the impact of racism, poverty and mental health on their student population. This is more important than ever, after Covid. 

Intervening to prevent and reduce the exclusion of SEND students

  • Students with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans are five times more likely to be excluded from school than students without an EHC plan
  • Figures for students with undiagnosed SEND are likely to be much higher but are not currently recorded. 
  • Autistic students are the largest group of SEND learners to be excluded. 

The way a school or college operates its behaviour management policy can have a highly negative and exclusionary impact on SEND students.  Following the Covid pandemic and the national emphasis on catch up, SEND students are facing greater pressures with reduced support from specialist TAs, LSAs and mental health professionals.

SEND children and exclusion

Autistic students are the largest SEND group to be excluded. We need a more inclusive system which takes a more holistic, whole child approach towards behaviour support.

Intervening to reduce the risk of exclusion for looked after children

Children in care can be more likely to miss education because of the disruption in their lives. School staff can help improve attendance by talking to children in care about the importance of coming to school; how they feel about coming to school; and their ambitions for the future and how being at school will help them with further education or getting a job. There is much that school staff can do to make a difference for children in care and to support carers to engage with education. 

Read our advice on support for children in care who may be at risk of exclusion from school. We’ve pulled together ideas from top experts into an accessible form and we’ve got a selected list of really useful references for further reading. Do use these in your school or setting to help promote positive outcomes for children in care.

Children in classroom with teacher

SEND children and exclusion

Autistic students are the largest SEND group to be excluded. We need a more inclusive system which takes a more holistic, whole child approach towards behaviour support.

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