School exclusions have helped to fuel the rise in violence and knife crime in the UK, according to the country’s former top-ranking police officer.
Writing in the Sunday Times today, Lord Bernard Hogan-Howe, who was London Metropolitan Police commissioner from 2011 until 2017, said the current rise in violence and knife crime had “three main aggravating factors: the drug trade, the casual carrying of knives, and an increase in young men who seem not to care”.
He said the latter had “many threads and is not easy to unpick”. “We know that children who experience violence in the home, have only a single parent, and are excluded from school, have a very high risk of becoming involved in crime.”
Lord Hogan-Howe said exclusion from school “has a huge impact”.
“There are serious concerns that educational performance indicators cause some schools to exclude those whose behaviour is poor and contributing disproportionately to the school’s assessment. The pupil referral units are having a limited impact and may be deepening the crisis.”
He added it was crucial to “have a hard look at education and find out what is going on with exclusion”. “Some charities seem to be having better results despite having less funding. Why is that?”
In January, Vicky Foxcroft, chair of the all-party Youth Violence Commission, called for funding to be switched from pupil referral units to mainstream schools to cut permanent exclusion rates. She told MPs there was a link between pupils being permanently excluded and becoming involved in violence.
A Youth Violence Commission report last year recommended that there should be a “long-term aspiration of zero expulsions from mainstream education and a reallocation of funding away from PRUs towards support and earlier intervention in mainstream schools.”
Last September, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, wrote in Tes: “The fact is that the appropriate use of exclusions, both on a fixed-term basis, and, in a small number of cases, permanently, is an essential part of school discipline.”
He explained exclusions were “not taken lightly”. “Schools have to follow procedures set out in statutory guidance which, in the case of a permanent exclusion includes a duty for governors to review the decision and a right of referral to an independent review panel. The perception that may have formed in some minds of some sort of exclusions free-for-all is at odds with the reality of processes which have to be painstakingly followed.”
Mr Barton said it was “clearly right and important to fully understand why there are differences in exclusion rates in different areas of the country and why some groups of pupils are more likely to be excluded”. “Our point is that the answer to these questions is likely to be complex and nuanced and that schools are not kicking out pupils on a whim.”