E is for… Exclusions

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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