Why does tackling school exclusions matter?

As peacemakers, the dramatic rise we’ve seen in school exclusions since 2012[1] makes us angry. Simply put, exclusions take young people out of the system and remove their safety net. They make it much easier to be recruited to a life of violence and crime, and it’s clear from our work in South London that their increase is closely correlated with the seemingly endless violence on our streets.

One recent study found that nine in ten boys in London’s young offender institutions had been excluded in some way[2] while another shows that, of 100 teenage boys caught up in county lines drug dealing, every single one had been excluded from school.

Exclusions matter to us as Christians too, because Jesus came to bring hope to the poor and vulnerable. I love to read how he opens the scroll in the synagogue and reads: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.’ (Luke 4:18-19).

Make no mistake: the poor and vulnerable are most affected by exclusions. Pupils eligible for free school meals and those receiving support for special educational needs are, respectively, four and five times more likely to be permanently excluded than their peers[3]. We are based in Brixton and we also see the racial bias inherent in the system, with children from African-Caribbean backgrounds up to four times more likely to be excluded.[4]

I wasn’t going to make it… but now I’m a success!

At CHIPS, we expect to have worked with over 200 students at risk of exclusion by the end of 2022. A couple of years back, we met one 14-year-old boy in Brixton – let’s call him Jonas – who was angry, frustrated and felt nobody was listening. At school, he was disruptive and his teacher thought he ‘wasn’t going to make it’.

Over the course of a year, we helped Jonas identify the issues he cared about and how he could change things. He began to find his voice and talk more openly. His school attendance improved. He started to engage more positively with the community around him. In due course, his teacher said that he would not only ‘make it’ but would be a success.

That’s typical of the approach we take, and the outcome we try to achieve. By drawing out the ‘hot’ anger of young people, focusing their energy on shared issues and empowering them to make change happen, we reduce the risk of exclusion and help them to become positive changemakers.

So, we’re pleased to see wider recognition emerging of the link between exclusions and youth violence. But there needs to be radical change if things are to improve on our streets.

Working for radical change

What needs to happen?

First, education policy must make a fundamental shift from exclusion to inclusion. Sending students to external Pupil Referral Units (PRUs), for example, doesn’t work. The average annual cost in London is £24,000 per pupil – what I imagine you might pay for a top private school – yet only 1.6% of pupils achieve a GCSE pass of grade five or above in English and Maths![5]

Schools need to be supported and incentivised to explore alternative models of intervention. Teachers tell us that they want to do things differently, but they are under incredible pressure from a lack of resources and relentless targets. They feel like the system is against them.

Second, research shows that outcomes are most improved when we take a ‘whole community’ approach. That’s why, for example, we campaign with Lambeth Citizens for change at both borough and London level and we host events for schools and community leaders to share alternative approaches. And there’s a role for all of us to play here – whether you’re a parent, teacher or community activist, you have a voice.

Third, the rise in school exclusions is symptomatic of a wider problem in society – a very narrow view of what education is and what success looks like, decided by those with wealth, class and privilege trying to churn out young people in their own image. Instead, we need to reset our own perspective and challenge others to imagine a more holistic view of what flourishing looks like for our young people. How we talk, think, pray and campaign together as Christians on this really matters.

So, we need to work towards a different vision of success – one that’s rooted in Biblical values and the inclusive kingdom of Jesus. But if we share a vision for peace on our streets, we need to start now, before it’s too late.

What can I do?

  • Write to your local MP and newspaper – to raise awareness of the impact of exclusions and request their help to bring about change.
  • Meet with your school and local authority – to ask about and challenge their exclusion policy.
  • Consider becoming a school governor – and use your influence to champion alternative, inclusive models of intervention.
  • Volunteer – with schools or charities that run projects supporting those at risk of exclusion.
  • Reset your perspective – and challenge others to imagine a different vision of success for our young people!

If you would like any help in framing your discussions, feel free to contact us at office@chipspeace.org

 

Sources:

[1] Department of Education, Permanent and fixed period exclusions in England 2017/18, 25 July 2019. Statistics are for state-funded schools and all school types.

[2] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/01/06/excluded-pupils-become-dominant-recruiting-ground-county-lines/

[3] RSA, August 2019. https://www.thersa.org/discover/publications-and-articles/rsa-blogs/2019/08/exclusions

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/may/09/address-the-injustice-of-racial-inequalities-in-school-exclusions

[5] https://www.standard.co.uk/news/education/bring-the-excluded-in-from-the-cold-rise-in-school-exclusions-linked-to-rise-in-recruitment-by-a4327276.html

Recruiting: Lead Youth Worker and Community Organiser

Are you driven by love and hope to challenge injustice and inequality? Can you bring people together from different backgrounds to take action for change and build peace?

We need a dynamic, relational, collaborative youth worker and community organiser to lead our peacemaking programmes in Lambeth with young people, families and communities.

Job Title: Lead Youth Worker and Community Organiser
Location: Brixton, South London
Hours: Full time (part time considered)
Contract: 6 months initially, expected to extend for at least 2 years
Salary: £27,000 per annum

Please read full details about the role, the job description and person specification in the Application Pack

To apply, please send an application by email to jobs@chipspeace.org including:
1. A covering letter on maximum 2 sides of A4, ensuring you refer to the Application Pack, particularly the points listed in the Person Specification and the text in the Who We’re Looking For section.
2. A CV detailing your employment and education history

We are seeking to appoint as soon as possible. Applications will be assessed as they arrive and suitable candidates called for interview on a first-come-first-served basis, so please apply as soon as possible. The first round of interviews will take place on the afternoon of 13th March 2020. Please apply by 1pm on Wednesday 11th March to be considered in this set of interviews.

We particularly encourage applications from people from a BAME background.

Please do refer to the Application Pack for full details. If you have further questions or would like to have an informal conversation before applying, please contact Paul on paul@chipspeace.org, 07891 350005, or 020 7078 7439.

Saving and lending builds trust and friendship

Fusheina and Ama sit close together, squeezed with four other ladies onto a long bench in the shade of a neem tree.  When I get my camera out to take a picture, one of the other ladies cracks a joke and they all collapse into giggles, broad smiles exposed, the joyful freedom of close friendship evident.

They have gathered with eight other widows from their village.  Gbumgbaliga, and surrounding communities as they do each fortnight, to bring their small deposits – often as little as 30 pence – to save their money together.  The CHIPS Team Leader Desmond, and his assistant Lydi, call the names one by one and the group leader gathers their deposits together and helps to take records.

“When we have emergencies like illness, a demand for school fees, or a funeral, we take small loans from the savings pot”, they tell me, delighted by the cushion of economic security this gives them and their family.

But this group is about much more than just economic security – it is primarily about relationships.  And not just any relationships.

This village is in the heart of Nanung, a place which has seen multiple violent conflicts and enduring tension between the Konkomba and Nanumba for decades.  Yet this group is ethnically mixed – half the ladies are Konkombas and half are Nanumbas, coming together in this shared activity to benefit their families, whatever tribe they are from.

Historic violence but enduring fear

Though the last major outbreak of violence was 20 years ago in 1994-95, when thousands were killed and 250,000 displaced, the legacy of that conflict and the mistrust between the communities endure.

In November 2018, a dispute over the destruction of crops between a Konkomba farmer and a Dagomba (close relations of the Nanumbas) farmer led to multiple people being shot and one death in a village 50 miles north of Gbumgbaliga.  Though it was a specific, personal dispute, the whole region was alive with rumours within hours – “there is war” people said, calling their friends to warn them.  Teachers from one tribe who teach in villages of the other rushed back to their homes and didn’t return for days; people on the outskirts of some towns didn’t venture outside for fear that the other tribe was on their way to attack them.

The families and friends of the CHIPS team called them and urged them to go to their home villages.  Our team is made up of people from both tribes who share a home together in a village which saw much conflict in 1994-95.  But our team are deeply embedded within the community and are close friends with people from all sides.  As the rumours circulated, they responded calmly to their families and friends saying “It’s not true, there’s nothing happening here – no one is coming to attack us”.  They displayed the true peace which is at the heart of our work – the peace we see in Jesus – calm in the midst of a storm; a peace based on relationships with people from all sides; a creative, communal, active, relational, hopeful peace. 

Thankfully, the violence didn’t spread though the rumours which followed it did expose the truth of the situation in the region.  Whilst there is no violence of visible conflict most of the time, the mistrust and fear remain deeply ingrained on both sides.  We thank God that there was no further fighting but we can also see that we are a long way from peace and that there is still much to be done.

Signs of Hope

Yet in Gbumgbaliga the signs of hope are easy to see.  As I sit with the women in their group, it is clear that their relationships are close, warm and trusting.  They share their money together, take loans from one another’s shared savings and do it all with much laughter and fun.

“We used to know each other’s faces from the market, and would maybe greet each other when we passed”, says Fusheina “but now the relationships are deeper and we know one another well”.

“It is because of this group that we are able to trust one another”, Ama tells me.  I realise I’m seeing peacemaking in action. 

Paul Maxwell-Rose

Standing Together

Division is the root of serious youth violence across the UK.

Faced with that division, the least we can do is to come together and stand united with others in seeking and working for peace.  We can commit to standing alongside those who suffer the trauma of youth violence and to working with young people to build a more hopeful and peaceful future.

Ascension Trust and their partners are organising a ‘Standing Together’ rally in Trafalgar Square on Saturday 6th April from 2pm to 4pm. 

We’ll be there.  Why not come and join us ?

Standing Together Rally

Paul Maxwell-Rose

Celebrating Peace

by Paul Maxwell-Rose

Would your church hold a Peace Service on Sunday 23rd September?

With violence escalating in our communities and wars raging across the world, more than ever we need Christians to champion peacemaking and encourage others to make peace too.

So, to mark the International Day of Peace (21st September), would your church hold a Peace Service on Sunday, 23rd September? We’ll provide you with a free resource to use which includes sermon notes, prayers, readings and videos.

Please can you discuss it with your church leader now to get the date in the church calendar, as these often get booked up well in advance?

And please let us know if you plan to hold a service so we can send the resource to you when it’s ready – email office@chipspeace.org or call us on 020 7078 7439.

Let us together make 23rd September the day when we and our churches around the country commit to praying and working for peace in our communities and across the world.