Scottish schools get rid of exclusion ‘reflex’

Scotland’s falling exclusion rates are not down to a ‘fancy-nancy initiative’ but a change in mindset, says education boss

Chalk on blackboard reading 'New Mindset Loading' in imitation of computer screen

When Glasgow director of education Maureen McKenna took over in 2007, exclusions were a “habit” and a “reflex reaction” to challenging behaviour in schools, she says.

In Scotland overall, in the 10-year period to 2018-19, there has been a 65 per cent reduction in exclusions.

The latest figures published last week show there were only three permanent exclusions in Scotland last year, down from 60 in 2010-11.

When it came to temporary exclusions there were 21.6 per 1,000 pupils last year, down from 40 per 1000 pupils in 2010-11.


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Background: Just three pupils permanently excluded in Scotland

Short read: Pressure to cut exclusions 'puts teachers at risk of violence'

Related: Unlawful exclusion of autistic pupils 'widespread'

Opinion: Do Scotland’s exclusion figures tell us the full story?


Ms McKenna, who recently featured in a Tes Scotland podcast, says this change has not come about because of some “fancy-nancy initiative”, but because decisions in schools – and in secondaries in particular – are now made in a more "child-centred way".

No 'fancy-nancy initiatives'

In Glasgow, she says, teachers are encouraged to see all behaviour as communication and to take into account the context children are living in when deciding how to deal with pupil transgressions.

In 2006-07 the most common reason for exclusion in Glasgow was “general or persistent disobedience”.

“We don’t have any fancy-nancy initiative where I can say, ‘There’s £1 million here that I spent on that and wow, look, it reduced exclusions.’ What we have done is we made the decision to work in a more child-centred way.

“The whole agenda in Scotland around adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and trauma-informed practice has had a big impact. Teachers are much more knowledgeable now about the context of children’s lives and behaviour is no longer looked at in isolation.

“One of the biggest achievements in Glasgow is that teachers don’t see it as bad behaviour but as distressed behaviour. That all behaviour is communication is one of our big training focuses. Now they are seeing behaviour in a different light.”

However, Ms McKenna believes that exclusion will never be eradicated.

“There will always be times when a young person needs to be taken out of a school for their own safety and the safety of other children.”

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