The “draconian” behaviour policies of some academy trusts that reportedly result in higher rates of exclusions than in maintained schools were highlighted at the NEU annual conference today.
Teachers attending the online conference voted in favour of “a campaign for a moratorium on exclusions" in the wake of the Covid pandemic, after hearing about the rising numbers of exclusions, particularly among black boys.
Inner-London primary teacher Denise Henry highlighted the concerns of the Runnymede Trust, a race-equality think tank, saying: "Halima Begum [director of the Runnymede Trust] ...said she was really concerned about the rising number of exclusions, particularly involving black schoolboys...who are being excluded at a time when perhaps there are all sorts of issues going on in school or at home, but then they go into a system that criminalises them and we risk losing them forever.”
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She added: “Now is the time for the government to show that education really does matter and that children and young people should be in school learning and enjoying the experience. The moral imperatives should not only be that children return to school [after lockdown] but also that they stay in school to catch up for time lost over the last 12 months. No child is disposable.
Call for a moratorium on school exclusions
“The Department for Education’s own mental health ambassador, several MPs, the Runnymede trust and hundreds of educators, youth workers, lawyers, students, parents, advocates and many others all support a moratorium on school exclusions. Our union should join this urgent call, too."
Teachers also backed a call for the NEU to produce a policy document and guidelines on combating exclusions, and for schools to publish exclusion data, including exam results for excluded students.
Lucie Scott, from the NEU Camden branch, said: ”Many academies have draconian behaviour policies that ultimately lead to higher exclusions. We need an education system that is committed to the development of all students and staff that is compassionate and promotes equality.”
She also said that black educators faced “obstacles” and that the government's recent Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report had attempted to "deny the reality of institutional racism" in schools.
NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “Race disparities in education are ongoing and can be seen in the issues around the retention and progression of black staff, the increasing incidents of racial harassment and bullying and the disproportionality in the exclusion of black students.
“We must prevent exclusion by working with the young people at risk of exclusion, in multi-agency teams across schools, youth groups and other services. This multi-agency cooperation and planning has been much harder because of local authority cuts… This is not the time for patience but for robust action against racism, including changes to the curriculum in England and building a more diverse profession.”
The motion backed by teachers today calls on the union to "campaign for a fully inclusive, properly funded education service where exclusion is reduced, ultimately ended, and a moratorium on exclusions in the wake of the pandemic".