The independent London newspaper

Union warns of a surge in school exclusions

Returning pupils need support not ‘catch up’ pressure, says the National Education Union

26 June, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Ken Muller, NEU Islington spokesman, said: ‘Schools need to prioritise processing together and healing from this difficult time’

THERE will be a surge in exclusions next year as schools rush to “catch up”, a union has warned.

A spokesman for the National Education Union (NEU) has said that schools must focus on “processing together and healing” pupils after months away from classrooms, with disadvantaged Islington children often confined to crowded homes.

The alert came in the week that prime minister Boris Johnson announced that schools are expected to have all pupils back in classrooms in September.

Ken Muller, NEU Islington spokesman, said: “We are very concerned that unless mainstream schools think carefully enough about supporting young people socially and emotionally on their return to school after the traumatic time of the Covid-19 crisis, there will be lots more exclusions next year.”

He added: “Schools need to prioritise processing together and healing from this difficult time, rather than pressurise young people to ‘catch up’ with missed content from our exam-driven education system.”

The NEU has also expressed concerns that exclusions will disproportionately affect “young black boys”, especially those with special educational needs (SEN) and on free school meals (FSM) as they are “160 times” more likely to be excluded than their white female peers.

A majority of permanently excluded pupils attend a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU).

The Tribune reported last week on fears that PRUs were becoming a “place of no return” for these children, with pupils staying there for months when they are meant to be a “short-term” solution.

In response to this article, a NEU representative from Islington’s New River College PRU said she supported a closer examination on how they were being used.

She said: “As a union rep at New River College Secondary PRU, I welcome your feature on Islington exclusion figures, which highlights the injustice of the perverse incentives that league tables and the focus on exam performance offer to mainstream schools in terms of exclusion and re-integration.

She added: “An important part of the exclusions picture is left out of this article though. Exclusions disproportionately affect black young people, with special educational needs, on free school meals compounding the injustice.

“A black boy with SEN on FSM is 160 times more likely to be excluded than his peers. The increasing number of African Caribbean and other minority groups being excluded reflect both a historic injustice and evidence of institutionalised racism.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “The government continues to back headteachers to use permanent exclusions as a last resort, but we are equally clear that our ambitions for children in Alternative Provision settings are as high as for any other children.

“We remain determined to improve outcomes for children who are permanently excluded.

“Despite Covid-19, we continue to develop a programme of change for the sector, which will enhance support for young people with challenging behaviour and strengthen the Alternative Provision sector so that vulnerable children are better supported to reach their potential.”


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