Why does tackling school exclusions matter?

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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