A former Ofsted chief inspector has said that carrying a knife should not automatically lead to exclusion.
Sir Michael Wilshaw told MPs holding an inquiry into knife crime today that he had found excluding a pupil “a very painful decision to make” because he would be often be “committing them to a few miserable years afterwards”.
Appearing in front of the Commons Education Select Committee, Sir Michael was asked to comment on Ministry of Justice statistics which found that 21 per cent of young offenders who had carried knives before age 16, had been excluded from school, with around half of those exclusions taking place after the knife offence.
Sir Michael said he found the statistic “really worrying”.
“I suspect some of those youngsters who may have been carrying a knife were probably not that much of a problem in school,” Sir Michael said. “They may have been carrying a knife for all sorts of different reasons, including self-defence.
"But if they had behaved well in school and had a pretty good record there was no reason why they should be excluded.”
His remarks come after Ofsted also questioned "zero tolerance" approaches towards knife carrying, with the inspectorate’s regional director for London, Mike Sheridan, saying an "overly rigid" approach may not safeguard the pupils or help their mental health.
Sir Michael also condemned funding cuts, saying that the highly staffed therapeutic unit he put in place when he was a head for a few pupils who could not cope in mainstream “could not be afforded now”.
He pointed out that it was “a scandal” that those youngsters who are most in need of support, those with SEND, those on free school meals, are the most likely to be excluded.
“We need to make sure that the services to those children are good, high quality,” Sir Michael said.
“Do I think that the cuts in education have had a detrimental effect on those services to those sorts of children? Absolutely so. Talk to any head and they will say that. This is a funding issue... Unless you have those services for those vulnerable children then they will cause problems in school.”
And he called for local authorities to have a greater ability to go into academies and challenge them on exclusions, saying at the moment local authorities could feel “wary” of intervening with “very powerful chief executives” who say the local authority has no control over the institution. “There has to be a better balance,” he said.
He told the committee that as a head he had chosen not to use metal detectors in his school. "I resisted putting barriers up in school, alarms in school to identify metal when they came in – metal detectors," he said. "I resisted that because you don’t want our schools to be prison-like."
Earlier this month police commissioners suggested exclusions were contributing to the rise in knife crime - something that the current Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman has rejected, saying that violence might be better explained by the problems which led to exclusion.
Concluding, Sir Michael said: “We’ve always had youth crime, but this is different. This is vicious, this is planned and we have a generation of young people who are frightened…young people who are doing well in school, but as soon as they leave the school gates are fearful of their lives.
"We talk about youngsters carrying knives who get in trouble because of one incident, often they are carrying that knife to defend themselves. That is a real social issue for all of us. We’ve got the mean streets developing in parts of London, Birmingham and elsewhere.”