Commenting on the latest exclusion statistics published by Government, Rosamund McNeil, assistant general secretary at the National Education Union, said:
"When exclusion figures show a clear disparity for Black students and students eligible for free school meals, it is time to ask some big questions about the curriculum, students' perspectives about what is on offer to them in school and the issues that turn young people off learning. One important part of the solution on exclusions is an engaging and representative curriculum, matched with targeted support for emotional and social difficulties. Curriculum and behaviour are intertwined, but the Department for Education often acts as if how pupils feel and behave and what and how they learn are not connected.
"School leaders continue to be deeply concerned by the impact of funding cuts on their options for providing individual support. This shortfall is exacerbated by larger class sizes and teachers reporting less time than ever to develop quality relationships with learners. The Government should tackle the financial challenges faced by schools and listen seriously to teachers' concerns about the downsides of a demotivating exam factory culture driven by the DfE.
"We need honesty about the correlation between SEND funding cuts and the rates of exclusion for young people with additional needs, because specialist support staff and appropriate group sizes need funding. It is clear that underinvestment by Government in SEND support has led to cuts to support staff in schools and this removes what students need in order to engage with what's happening in class. There will be a real challenge in September around inclusion as DfE hasn't provided enough support on SEND.
"One in three children are now trapped in poverty, and the Government has a responsibility to tackle the economic hardship and social deprivation faced by so many families. We need a joined-up approach across education, mental health and youth services if we're going to give young people a sense of agency and optimism about their lives.
"The events of 2020 should act as a catalyst for creative thinking about what helps young people feel confident, valued and engaged in school. There is an opportunity to change education policy for the better and to remove the barriers that deter many young people from engaging with learning."