Tales of the excluded

16th March 2012 at 00:00
The children's commissioner's forthcoming report looks at what happens when pupils are removed from school. Here, Kerra Maddern invites young people in alternative provision to share their stories, in their words

If you are a pupil of black Caribbean heritage, or are from a poorer family and claim free school meals, you are four times more likely to be permanently excluded than your classmates.

Such striking statistics are one reason why children's commissioner Maggie Atkinson has been travelling the country to find out what happens when children are excluded. The resulting report is out next week and one thing is certain - it is not going to paint a pretty picture.

The numbers are stark. Some 40 per cent of 16- to 18-year-olds not in education, employment or training (Neets) and nine out of 10 of those who spend time in young offenders' institutions have at some stage in their school career been permanently excluded from school.

The commissioner examined the factors that influence schools' decisions to exclude, the effectiveness of the appeals and the impact of legislation, government policy and regulation on practice regarding school exclusions.

To mark the publication of this landmark report, TES visited a series of pupil referral units (PRUs) and special units to let the excluded speak. Here are their experiences, told in their own words.

Joshua: "I used to take money. Later I got younger children to do it for me."

Joshua's behaviour went downhill when he joined a gang. The 15-year-old was given a second chance by his secondary school in Essex, but continued to rob pupils and extort money from them. He now attends the Redbridge Tuition Service in Essex, which provides education for children who are out of school temporarily or permanently excluded. He lives with both his parents. Two of his sisters are training to be doctors and his father is a church minister.

"The problems started in Year 8. I started extorting money out of other pupils. I was involved in a criminal gang because a couple of my mates were in it, and my brother knew those sorts of people.

I used to take money. Later I got younger children to do it for me. I picked those who were really cheeky. I used to do it on Monday when other pupils had their week's lunch money with them. I'd pick pupils who were rich. One girl was giving me, and other people, #163;700 every two weeks because she was using her mum's bank card. I think she did it because she thought it would make her friends. When I look back, that makes me feel bad.

In Year 9 I started robbing people inside and outside school, and I also got other children to do it for me. When the teachers caught them they gave them my name. At first I lied, but so many were saying the same thing I eventually had to be honest.

In Year 10 I got caught for two phone robberies in school. The first time the teachers didn't have any proof, but the second was on CCTV and I was permanently excluded. It was really disappointing, but I thought it was the right punishment.

I've now been here for three weeks. It's better than school; I couldn't concentrate there. Here I can keep my head down. I'd like to go back to a different school. I'm not part of a gang any more. I got out two months ago. I did worry that if I left I would be stabbed up, but an older member of the gang helped me get out.

I'm going to take my GCSEs and I want to get into a football academy because I want to be a footballer. If that doesn't happen I'll study sports in college.

My aim is to show my parents I'm not a bad person."

Tayo: "I'd try to talk to teachers, but they wouldn't listen."

Tayo, 15, was asked to leave his primary school and was permanently excluded from his secondary school. He was also later barred from a PRU. He now attends the Boxing Academy in Hackney, East London, a charity that uses the discipline of boxing to re-engage pupils who have had difficulties with education.

"In Year 7 I got kicked out of my secondary school in East London because I kept getting suspended. I got called into a meeting and told I was permanently excluded.

I liked the school, but I kept on getting into arguments with teachers about little things. Like I used to shout out answers rather than putting my hand up and that would turn into a big row. Teachers made things into a big deal, and made out like I was doing something bad. I'd try to talk to teachers, but they wouldn't listen. I'd speak back to them when they were speaking to me. I think I could have handled things in a different way; I know now not to answer back.

A few months after being excluded I moved to a PRU. One day I had a dog lead in my jacket pocket, which I brought in by mistake. The teachers said it was a weapon. Then I got arrested because a teacher at the unit said I went there with a hockey stick and knife. But the case got dropped when it went to court because there was no evidence.

I'd been arrested before, but not for something like that. One time a friend sold me a stolen mobile phone.

When I got to the Boxing Academy last March I was told I would be searched every day for weapons. I had no problem with that because I didn't have any weapons. Since I got here I haven't been no trouble.

I live with my mum and dad and my sister is at university. My mum was trying for ages to get me a place at a secondary school when I was at the PRU. She applied to about 10 places.

I want to go to college and do a maths degree."

Adam: "I think I was angry because I had been bullied at primary school."

Teachers struggled to control the anger of Adam*, now 15, when he was at primary school. Adam ended up at a centre for children without a secondary school place in South London, an institution from which he was temporarily excluded on a number of occasions. Now Adam attends Lilian Baylis Technology School, also in South London.

"When I came here I couldn't speak formal; what I said wasn't clear. I had a really bad attitude as well. I was appalling. I used to be rude to teachers and ignore them. I would shout at them if they shouted at me.

I got upset when I was suspended from the unit. I was always arguing, with other pupils and with teachers. My behaviour got worse and worse. I had a really bad temper and didn't make much effort with my school work.

I didn't like it at the unit. I was suspended five times, mostly for a week each time, and I was also given detentions. I think I was angry because I had been bullied at primary school. I was tall and other pupils used to say I was lanky.

Lilian Baylis is a good school and I like it here. Since I've been here I've socialised with everybody, and everyone respects each other. There are rarely arguments and fights; that's what I like about it.

I've only been suspended once at Lilian Baylis. I was still trying to adapt to being here and I was still arguing. I think the teachers were shocked when I arrived because they hadn't seen anyone behave like that.

I'm taking GCSEs and BTEC courses and it's going really well. I'm doing coursework and getting good grades. My behaviour is improving. Now if someone wants to argue with me I just ignore them.

I live with my mum, brother and stepdad. They've been upset with me for what I've done. I really want to go to sixth form. My brother goes and he says it's a great opportunity. I want to do A levels, and then to be a footballer or businessman."

Ben: "I respect teachers who respect me."

Ben* also attends Lilian Baylis, but teachers have been struggling to control his behaviour since Year 7. He is now at risk of exclusion and teachers are trying to help him, but he has been given a number of temporary exclusions.

"I've been suspended three times, mostly for a week at a time, and I've been given about 60 detentions. My suspensions have been for fighting and arguing and my detentions have been for answering back to teachers. I do this when I'm not getting my say. They think I'm being rude, but I want to explain what I did and why. When they don't listen to me I get more annoyed.

My last suspension was a month ago for fighting in the school. I get angry and frustrated quickly. Teachers try to calm me down by talking to me. Being suspended doesn't work, I just watch TV until school is over and I can go out.

I respect teachers who respect me.

I live with my mum and her two other children. My dad also has two other children. I get on fine with them; they don't give me a reason for answering back.

It's teachers who are annoying. There are rules that are just pointless, like I have to sit down when they write out the forms for giving me a detention.

I get on well with some teaching assistants. I guess I see more of myself in them. Now I've got a mentor, Dave, from Kids Company (the charity). He talks to me about how school is going and how I'm going to change. He tells me I need to calm down, and to think about the consequences of what I do. I know to walk away from arguments.

This school is doing as much as it can to help me, but I've been told I'm on my last warning and I need to improve my behaviour. I want to finish my GCSEs and go to the sixth form. I want to be a PE teacher because I like sports."

Christina: "A teacher tried to help me and I turned around and punched him in the face."

Christina, 15, was in constant trouble at school, and narrowly avoided being permanently excluded before moving to the Boxing Academy. She lives with her grandmother, who is disabled. Since speaking to TES, Christina has stopped attending the academy.

"I got in lots of trouble at my secondary school (in North-east London) and was really close to being permanently excluded. My friends had a fight in a park with a woman and her daughter. Someone filmed it and showed it to the school, and a teacher said it was me who was stamping on this woman. But it wasn't.

They excluded me for two weeks, even though I told them it wasn't me. Finally the headteacher asked the teacher who gave me the detention if I was with them on that day. They apologised, but they kept blaming stuff on me. I was always the person who was getting into trouble.

I kept on answering back and getting into fights with other students. I was, like, the second-worst kid in school. I done it because I didn't think anyone would listen to me, and the only way to get attention was to do bad things like punching, kicking and headbutting. During one fight a teacher tried to help me and I turned around and punched him in the face. I told him I was sorry. When I was angry I couldn't control myself.

My nan, who I live with, then arranged for me to move schools. I was OK for a bit, but when I hit Year 10 things started getting a bit out of hand. I was getting suspended twice a week. My nan decided I should come to the Boxing Academy. She thinks I'm calmer now.

Before, I used to hang around on the streets till late at night, getting in trouble with the police for fighting and letting off fireworks. I've only been arrested once, after an argument with my nan when I caused criminal damage to her house.

I still get angry at times, but it's much better here. Before, I used to take my anger out on other things, like my nan's door. Now I can take it out on boxing.

I want to study arts and media at college and I'd love to be a singer."

Areej: "I got vexed up easily about little things."

Areej, 16, was moved to a different school in Year 9 because she was truanting. She was later expelled for taking drugs and had unsuccessful placements at two PRUs. She now attends Barnardo's Allergrange Community Service in Bradford, West Yorkshire, a centre for young people experiencing difficulties at school.

"In Year 9 I had a managed move because I was skiving so much I missed most of school that year. I then went back to another school I had been to before. It was OK in the beginning, but then I started getting into fights.

I got vexed up easily about stupid little things, like if people were chatting things about me. But I only skived once and my school work was all good. I didn't kick off with the teachers. They respected us, so what was the point?

My friends took drugs into school, weed, and we smoked it at lunchtime. Then when we came back one of the girls collapsed. It wasn't me who brought the drugs in, but I got excluded permanently and they didn't. I was the only Asian person in the group. They were all white and it was a Christian school.

I know I done wrong, but at the end of the day the teachers put the blame on me when I wasn't the main person. I didn't get upset because by then I wasn't bothered about school after what the teachers did. I went to a couple of PRUs but I just didn't attend because I didn't like them. At the time I couldn't be bothered with education.

I've been in trouble with the police for an assault. Another girl, one of my mates, was chatting crap about me and mouthing off to people about me. I got vexed and started hitting her. I got a referral order, which means I learn about victim awareness and I get help with anger management.

I live with my mum, three sisters and one brother. My mum just got fed up while all this was going on.

Now I go to Allergrange and I'm getting along well. We don't get treated like kids. I know if I get into trouble again with the police I'll get a criminal record.

I want to be a social worker and to do an apprenticeship in health and social care."

Chris: "I have a better relationship with the people here than I do with my teachers at school."

Chris*, 13, is being supported by the Leeds Reach centre, a charity that helps children experiencing difficulties in mainstream school. He was sent there following persistent bad behaviour.

"I live with my mum and she has got really angry about my behaviour. My behaviour towards teachers and pupils was really bad. I'd mess about in the classroom and be rude to teachers. I would repeatedly answer them back. If I disagreed with them I'd say so. It seemed like they were being unfair to me at the time, but I know what I did was wrong. I'd get really angry. Me and my mates used to be abusive to people in the streets, too.

From Year 7 to Year 9 I had 25 suspensions and periods in the isolation room at school. I did well in some lessons - PE, dance, drama and technology - and I like maths and science.

Now I spend four days a week at Leeds Reach and every Friday in my school. I've been here four weeks and I've been back to the school once.

It hasn't gone all that well, if I'm honest. I was put in isolation within one and a half hours of arriving and I was sent home. At break time I walked along a corridor banned to pupils and shoved my way past a teacher. I told him to move out of the way. I was just trying to show off to my mates.

But it really helps in Leeds Reach because you don't have to look up to teachers like you do in school. You can speak to them informally. We do English and maths, all those subjects, and we also have drugs education and learn about why you shouldn't join gangs.

I have a better relationship with the people here than I do with my teachers at school.

I want to get all my GCSEs and go to sixth form, and then to university to study science."

Sarah: "I've been suspended 15 times from Year 7 to Year 9."

Sarah*, 13, is also spending time at Leeds Reach because of bad behaviour, including threats made to teachers.

"I live with my mum and her two other children. She's trying to get back to work, but she can't because she keeps getting phone calls from the school saying I've got to come home.

Sometimes I can be proper stubborn and won't listen to nobody. I'd skive off school. My head of year understood me, but other teachers didn't. They didn't know anything about the kind of background I come from. It was my head of year's idea to send me here (to Leeds Reach). He thought it would be a fresh start.

Before, I was being rude to teachers. When things were going well I was polite. I would help out, get to lessons on time and do my work - even extra work. But when I'm not in a good mood I walk out of lessons. I can also be disruptive and show off to my friends. I swear and threaten to hit teachers. I've been suspended 15 times from Year 7 to Year 9. If I got sent home in the middle of the day I would just sit in front of the TV. If I was put in isolation it was boring, but at least you have to do work because you can't get away. But the school didn't do that for me because they said the teachers weren't safe around me.

I want to be able to get a job when I'm older and a house, and I won't get that unless I fix up my education. So now if teachers shout at me I'm going to bite my tongue because I know if I react I'll get into trouble.

I go back to school once a week. The first week I was sent home because I threatened to hit a teacher. But I've been for two more weeks and there was no trouble.

I'm going to listen to what the teachers say. I want to go to college to study hair and beauty, and then to university."

Cherish: "Everyone assumed if something happened it was me."

Cherish, 15, was constantly in trouble for bad behaviour at her secondary school in Hackney, East London. She agreed to a "managed move" to the Boxing Academy two years ago.

"I was OK in school until Year 8, then I started getting into trouble. I kicked off in lessons, I never used to work, I was rude to the teachers and I used to end up throwing things like pencils at them. I didn't want to go to school; it was boring.

I was sent to the isolation or "G" room all the time and would work there. I didn't like my teachers; they were annoying. They would tell me off for not finishing work and give me detentions. Sometimes it wasn't my fault: other people in the class and my friends were being disruptive.

Once I was excluded for three days for writing graffiti on the school walls, but I didn't do it. I live with my mum and dad, and they were annoyed at my behaviour because they knew when I put my mind to it I could do better.

Everyone assumed if something happened it was me. When a senior teacher came into the classroom to collect a pupil who had to go to the G room they always thought it was me. I did get on well with four teachers: they taught me English, maths, Spanish and PE. I liked science too, but I never got to be in lessons because the teacher would always send me out. Sometimes I would walk out, and go to the G room myself.

Teachers had mentioned the Boxing Academy to me before as somewhere I would go if I was excluded. In Year 9 I asked to go there. Some of my friends were already there and they said it was good. I think the school was quite surprised I asked to go. I moved the next week.

My grades have improved and I want to go to college to study A levels. I like science. At the moment I'm studying a BTEC in sport and GCSEs in English, maths, citizenship and ICT. It's good here because the classes are smaller. I can't handle being in a big class. The teachers explain things better here, too."

* Names have been changed


In 2009-10 the permanent exclusion rate for boys was approximately four times higher than that for girls. Boys represented 78 per cent of the total number of permanent exclusions.

The most common point for both boys and girls to be excluded is at ages 13 and 14; about 53 per cent of all permanent exclusions were of pupils from these age groups.

Pupils with a statement of special educational needs (SEN) are about eight times more likely to receive a permanent exclusion than those pupils with no SEN.

In 2009-10 there were 510 appeals lodged by parents against the permanent exclusion of their child.

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