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FORUM: ‘Exclusion is not the answer to discipline’

We need parents, staff, councillors and citizens across the borough to demand inclusion rather than exclusion in our schools, argues Richard Reiser

02 November, 2018 — By Richard Reiser

The rise in school exclusions – nationally and in Islington – has been in the news recently.

The Department for Education data for Islington in 2016/17 (the last year we have published data) saw an increase in primary exclusions to 10 permanent and 304 fixed-term.

This was the highest rate in London for permanent exclusions at 0.06 per cent and the highest rate for fixed-term exclusions at 1.95 per cent of the primary population.

The same year there were 24 permanent secondary exclusions and 922 fixed-term exclusions. This is the sixth highest permanent and the fifth highest fixed-term exclusions rate in London.

Head teachers have to keep discipline and have an effective behaviour policy that does not discriminate against any particular group.

Research shows the best way of doing this is with the whole school, where staff and students have a say in developing an inclusive behaviour policy that is firm and fair.

Governors should be checking their exclusion data to ensure no one group is disproportionately represented and, better still, that there are few if any exclusions.

There were 16 primary schools in the borough with no permanent or fixed-term exclusions.

Four primary schools account for the 10 permanent exclusions. Five come from New North Academy, which also had nearly one sixth of all the fixed-term primary exclusions in the borough.

In Islington, those who are poor, as measured by eligibility for free school meals, are nearly three times as likely to have a fixed-term exclusion.

Those with Special Educational Needs and Disability Support (SEND) are four times more likely to be excluded than those with no SEND.

Those with an Education Health and Care Plan (previously a statement) are twice as likely to be excluded as those with no SEND.

White students are a quarter more likely to be excluded than those from any sort of ethnic minority background.

However, those of a black Caribbean background are twice as likely to be excluded.

Violence against staff or pupils is understandably often a reason for exclusions, as are sexual or racist behaviour and use of drugs, alcohol or weapons.

However, schools should only exclude as a last resort, using internal procedures, developing a strong values-based education and dealing with bullying and name calling.

Persistent disruptive behaviour in Islington led to 9 out of 34 permanent exclusions and more than one third of fixed-term exclusions (466/1226). These should generally not lead to exclusion but be dealt with by internal procedures.

Why is this growth in exclusions occurring?

Schools are increasingly not habitable for all pupils as the curriculum narrows with the loss of creative subjects, teachers increasingly having to teach to the tests, rather than starting where their students are with a child- focused approach.

Our schools have become like exam factories driven by narrow league tables.

At the same time, with a real cut of 9 per cent in their budgets between 2015 and 2020, they are less able to include those with SEND, especially those with behaviour difficulties arising from learning difficulties, autism, hyperactivity and mental health issues.

Schools have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils. Often they are failing in this and unlawfully refusing to admit such pupils. Yet the law says there is a presumption of inclusion.

We need parents, staff, councillors and citizens across the borough to come together to demand inclusion rather than exclusion in our schools.

There is growing evidence that exclusions are leading to increase in knife and other juvenile crime.

Those excluded are vulnerable. We cannot afford the levels of exclusion if we want a society where all can live peacefully and equitably.

We need an urgent change of government but we can start by all taking responsibility for exclusions and promote inclusion in Islington.

Richard Rieser is director of World of Inclusion

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