E is for… Exclusions

In this series of short blogs, we’re working through the alphabet to highlight the approaches – some more surprising than others – that we take at CHIPS to grassroots peacemaking!

Across England, permanent exclusions from school have soared by 60% in five years[1] and, as peacemakers, this gives us great cause for concern.

Exclusions affect the poor and vulnerable disproportionately. Pupils eligible for free school meals and those receiving support for special educational needs are significantly 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 much more likely to be excluded.[4]

Exclusions take young people out of the education system and remove their safety net. For one thing, they make it much easier to be recruited to a life of violence and crime. Indeed, recent data from HMI Inspectors of Prisons reveal that more than eight in ten children in custody have been excluded from school.[2]

Pandemic pressures

The recent extended school closures during the height of pandemic make the need for tackling exclusions even more urgent.

We know from anecdotal evidence that criminal and drugs gangs have been busy using school closures as an opportunity to lure new recruits. These young people who have experienced exploitation will now also be more vulnerable to exclusion.

We understand how, as the pandemic accentuates financial uncertainty for many people across the country, a criminal lifestyle might appear more appealing. We know one young person sentenced for drug dealing who says he only did it to try and help his family when their rent was in arrears.

Many young people are also experiencing trauma and stress as a result of the pandemic, and wondering what it means for their future and aspirations. Schools currently face multiple competing priorities and, as one union spokesman argued recently, unless they are able to balance their need to catch up with adequate support for young people, we could see a new spike in exclusions this year due to COVID.[5]

Preventative action

At CHIPS, we see every day how exclusions stop young people from reaching their full potential and lead to conflict and violence on our streets. That’s why working to prevent them is a priority for us in South London. Over the last few years we have partnered in different ways with six schools in Lambeth and 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. Jonas was angry and 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 not only reduce their risk of exclusion, but also help them to become changemakers and positive role models for the future.

Now, as the new school year gets into full swing and the pandemic continues to threaten to disrupt day-to-day life across the country, reducing school exclusions has never been more important.

That’s why reducing school Exclusions deserves a place in our A – Z of practical peacemaking.

Footnotes

[1] Evening Standard, ‘The Excluded Campaign’, 21 September 2020

[2] Children & Young People Now, ‘Children exploited by gangs in lockdown most at risk’, 28 August 2020

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

[4] The Guardian letters page 9 May 2020. 

[5] Islington Tribune, ‘Union warns of a surge in school exclusions’, 26 June 2020

Brixton school exclusions: project update

We recently reached another small but encouraging milestone at CHIPS – half-way point in the first year of our latest project tackling school exclusions in Lambeth!

Launched with the support of the Walcot Foundation in September 2019, we expect to work with up to 150 pupils at risk of exclusion over our three-year Voices for Change project.

We’re pleased with the progress we’ve made so far. Rishan Walker, our CHIPS Youth Worker, has been a facilitator at nearly every group mentoring session since the programme started and says: “Six months in, I can already see how the work we’re doing is helping them to become better students – and more importantly better people!”

Tackling hot issues

One of the key aims of the project is to engage young people by drawing out their anger and frustration, and helping them to channel it into the issues they care about and make change happen.

Two CHIPS youth workers facilitate regular group mentoring sessions with them at school, and also organise activities with them outside the area, to help them see the bigger picture and encourage them to explore new ways of problem-solving.

Hot issues which have emerged so far, where we are now helping the students to explore ways of taking action, range from school behaviour management policy to police-community relations and climate change.

Please come again!

Rishan says one highlight of her work so far was when one of the groups, who started the project with great scepticism, started to ask “Can you guys come again on Thursday?” even though their sessions are only held on Tuesdays!

Darnell, aged 14, was one of the most disruptive students at the beginning of the school year, which was displayed through aggressive talk and horseplay. Since the first session, his behaviour has improved week by week, and he has since begun to engage actively in the group discussion.

Happy teachers

Teachers seem pleased with progress too – if not a little bemused that their students are suddenly keen to come to school! One senior teacher says “The students really like it and are always asking if sessions are happening today” while the pastoral manager at another school says that the students always look forward to their sessions.

The work is one strand of the CHIPS Voices for Change project, which brings together, and builds on, two of our most successful areas of work in Brixton to date – community organising and partnership with schools.

Paul Maxwell-Rose, Co-Director of Programmes, oversees the project from the CHIPS base in Brixton. “Through community organising, we help young people and families on the estates drive change in their communities, while our partnership with schools means we can help those at risk of exclusion to turn their lives around”, he says. “By delivering these together, I believe we can have a real impact as we work to build peace in Brixton.”

CHIPS launches programme to help tackle school exclusions

Charity’s partnership with schools will empower young people at risk of exclusion to drive change in their communities

CHIPS, the international Christian peacemaking charity, today announced the launch of a new programme to help reduce the number of school exclusions in Lambeth.

The announcement follows the publication of a report this summer by the Home Affairs Committee, which calls for urgent action to tackle school exclusions[1] as part of the fight against serious youth violence. The number school exclusions has risen nationally since 2012, and the latest data shows a further year-on-year increase in permanent and fixed period exclusions for the 2017/18 school year.[2]

At the heart of the programme, two CHIPS youth workers will facilitate weekly small group mentoring sessions with students at participating secondary schools. The sessions are designed to channel the students’ energy into identifying the shared causes, interests and issues they care about most and will empower them to take action and drive change in their communities. To complement the mentoring work, CHIPS will also organise regular visits outside the neighbourhood, helping students to build new relationships and explore different ways of thinking and problem-solving.

Success will be measured by the number of students successfully completing the programme and avoiding exclusion. Other expected outcomes include improvement in school behaviour and attendance, improved communication skills and greater engagement in the community.

The Walcot Foundation, an independent grant-making organisation and Lambeth’s principal independent funder, has contributed to the funding of the programme over three years and Citizens UK has provided training in community organising to the CHIPS team.

Paul Maxwell-Rose, Co-director of Programmes at CHIPS, said:

“The number of young people being excluded from secondary schools in London has risen in recent years, to reach over 40,000 permanent and fixed-term exclusions in the last year for which statistics are available[3]. At the same time, the link between school exclusions and youth violence has become increasingly clear. We need to take action now and society needs to hear these young people’s voices.

“We are very grateful to the Walcot Foundation for recognising the importance of this issue in Lambeth, and for their generous contribution towards the funding the programme for the next three years. Our experience shows that, by drawing out the anger of young people and focusing their energy on shared issues where they can make change happen, we can not only reduce the risk of exclusion but help them to become positive changemakers in their communities.”

 

Notes for editors

About CHIPS (Christian International Peacemaking Service)

CHIPS is a charity of Christian peacemakers, who have been living at the heart of conflict for over 50 years. From Brixton to Ghana, the charity is invited to join communities and help build a sustainable future free from violence and division. Inspired by the life of Jesus, CHIPS believes that the best way to bring about lasting peace is to take sides. Both sides. For more information, visit chipspeace.org

About the Walcot Foundation

Walcot Foundation is Lambeth’s principal independent grant-maker that aims to tackle poverty by creating opportunity.  The Foundation makes grants totalling £2 million a year to individuals, schools and community organisations.

For more information, visit walcotfoundation.org.uk

[1] Home Affairs Committee report, 31 July 2019

[2] 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.

[3] Department of Education, ‘Permanent and fixed period exclusions by type of school’, local authority statistics 2017/18, table 17. Statistics are for state-funded secondary schools.