IslingtonTribune

The independent London newspaper

Town Hall probes school exclusions link to violence

Panel to investigate black and minority ethnic students’ experiences, including fairness of court sentences

09 October, 2020 — By Helen Chapman

Cllr Kaya Comer-Schwartz: ‘The outcome we want is to see a reduction in custody sentences in BAME young people’

THE Town Hall has launched an investigation into a possible link between the exclusion from schools of black and minority ethnic students and youth violence.

A scrutiny panel will analyse the fairness of court sentences and outcomes for young people.

It comes after recommendations made in the “Disproportionality Project” report drawn up by criminologists from City University who looked at the work of Islington gang teams and their counterparts at neighbouring Haringey Council.

Labour councillor Kaya Comer-Schwartz, deputy leader of the council and Islington’s education chief, said that as a result of the report the council are also setting up parenting groups in the EC1 area and Caledonian Road, funded by the Violence Reduction Unit.

A project run by Camden and Islington NHS Trust already sees psychologists target EC1 where a gang loosely known as “Easy Cash” is said to be responsible for drug dealing operations across the country as well as stabbings.

Cllr Comer-Schwartz said: “Seventy-four per cent of our young offenders are non-white, whilst only 67 per cent of the Islington population under 18 is non-white, so there is clearly a disproportion­ality there.

“The outcome we want is to see a reduction in custody sentences in BAME [black and minority ethnic] young people involved in criminality or to see greater equality with their white counterparts.”

The report also recommended the council set up a scrutiny panel to investigate custodial sentences at Highbury Magistrates’ Court, and suggested organising community events with young people and the police to strengthen relationships in the community.

The Tribune has regularly reported on the school exclusions issue and its link with young people being drawn into crime and violence.

Department for Education figures show there were 1,420 fixed-term exclusions in Islington secondary schools in 2017 and 2018 – the highest in London.

From 2017 to 2018 there were 26 perma­nent exclusions from the borough’s primary and secondary schools.

Around 70 per cent of the excluded students were from a “minority ethnic” background while over half were on free school meals.

Cllr Comer-Schwartz said: “We need to look at why that is and what we need to do as a whole education system to redress that balance.

“We need to look at the recruitment of teachers, headteachers, governors, and ask are they reflecting or experience similar things as the children they teach and how can we improve that.”

The council insist the school exclusion rate has fallen since 2018. From 2018 to 2019 there were 23 permanent exclusions in the borough.

“We are heading in the right direction, we just need to keep pushing,” added Cllr Comer-Schwartz.

“Our role is to support schools but also to challenge those schools, and that’s why this work hopefully will give us the leverage to do that.

“We know that the majority of exclusions happen in secondary school so that’s why it’s really important that we continue to reemphasise the dangers of exclusions and work with all schools to reduce them.”

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