Ban exclusions during pandemic, MPs told

Exclusions 'criminalise' pupils and disproportionately affect black boys, the Runnymede Trust has warned
1st October 2020, 11:02am


Ban exclusions during pandemic, MPs told
Coronavirus: The Runnymede Trust Wants School Exclusions Halted During The Pandemic

A moratorium on school exclusions should be introduced during the coronavirus pandemic because black boys are being disproportionately affected, a committee has heard.

Dr Halima Begum, director of the Runnymede Trust race equality think tank, said she was "really concerned" about rising numbers of expulsions and exclusions, particularly involving black schoolboys.

She told MPs that schools must think about building confidence to encourage pupils to attend and stay in school, rather than employing "penalising measures" such as exclusions or fines for non-attendance.

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Dr Begum told the Commons Women and Equalities Committee: "These young men are being excluded at a time when perhaps there are all sorts of other issues going on in school or at home, but then they go into a system that criminalises them, so I would actually ask for a moratorium for school exclusions at this precise moment because it's having a disproportionate impact on young black men.

The impact of school exclusions

"It's about building confidence, I think, in our communities, and school exclusions don't do that. Fines don't do that."

The committee was holding a one-off session on the impact of the coronavirus on children's education, particularly on how it has affected black, Asian and/or minority ethnic pupils.

Children's commissioner for England Anne Longfield, also giving evidence, said children's vulnerability will have been heightened by the pandemic, and that she was also concerned about children who had not been identified as vulnerable before the outbreak.

She said she was particularly concerned about the school attendance of some older teenagers who may have been reluctant to attend school pre-coronavirus, were unlikely to have parents who had worked from home during the pandemic, and may now be at greater risk of criminal and sexual exploitation.

She said police forces initially recorded a drop in children involved in county lines drugs gangs but that this had returned to "business as usual".

She told MPs: "Those are a group of children I'm particularly concerned with engaging back into school, and I think one of the ways that might be possible and strengthened would be to really harness the potential of youth workers, who will be able to have a more informal relationship with these kids, will be much more likely be able to have a relationship in the first place, and will be able to support and engage them back into school.

"I think there are real risks about losing that group of children otherwise, possibly from education forever."

Ms Longfield said that while overall attendance rates for September were "decent", the challenge would be ensuring that children stayed in school over the coming months.

She said attendance data up to 17 September showed that 10 per cent of schools with less than 70 per cent of white British children as pupils were closed compared with 4 per cent of schools with more than 70 per cent of white British children as pupils.

And she said schools with Asian students making up more than 15 per cent of pupils were two-and-a-half times more likely to be closed compared with schools with a lesser proportion of Asian students.

She said: "Overall, the numbers of children in school is, I think, they are decent numbers coming into school in the broad population in the first month back - almost 90 per cent - but keeping them there clearly will be another issue, and we need to look at that 10 per cent and what that means. And clearly there is something going on here about schools and school closures, which presumably is because of potential outbreaks or nervousness within the population."

Places for vulnerable children must be kept open in schools if they are forced to close again, Ms Longfield added.

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