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Inquiry opens into 'inequality' of exclusion rates

Stark "inequalities" in school exclusion for different groups of children will be examined as part of a new inquiry by the children's commissioner.

Maggie Atkinson will examine if children's rights are being breached by their teachers' decision to expel. She wants to discover if schools are following the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child when they decide to ban pupils from the classroom.

Dr Atkinson wants to find the "origin of the inequalities" suggested by current statistics, which show the permanent exclusion rate for boys is approximately three-and-a-half times higher than that for girls and children with special educational needs are eight times more likely to be permanently excluded than those with no SEN.

Black Caribbean pupils are three times more likely to be permanently excluded than the school population as a whole. Children who are eligible for free school meals are around three times more likely to receive either a permanent or fixed-period exclusion than children who are not eligible for free school meals.

"We want to hear about children's experiences of exclusion, and under what circumstances it is being used. Just how equal is the current system?" Dr Atkinson told The TES.

"This gap we have between the different rates of exclusion for different groups of children should concern everybody. There has to be a reason. We want to find out what makes exclusion part of the menu in some areas and why it's more likely to happen to certain children.

"Is this based on their personal circumstances, or is the current trend just because of the way the DfE (Department for Education) collects statistics?"

A panel of experts will work with Dr Atkinson to take evidence from adults and children around the country from this week until 5 October. They include Janet Mokades, a schools adjudicator, and Simon Woolley, commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

This will be the first inquiry conducted by Dr Atkinson using powers in the Children Act 2004 which allow her to summons people to attend to give evidence or produce documents and to administer oaths and take evidence on oath. The inquiry will report back next March.

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