Put yourself in the shoes of a child who has been excluded from school. Excluded from a place where they should feel safe and supported – how would you feel? Rejected, disappointed, ashamed, angry and misunderstood, perhaps.
This myriad of emotions is also felt by the child’s parents and school staff.
Whether a child is excluded for a few days, weeks or – in the most serious cases – permanently, the repercussions for families are huge. Parents will need to change their daily routine to be there for their child, which will impact on their ability to work and care for other family members. Already anxious mums and dads may feel ill-equipped to manage challenging behaviour or support their child’s learning at home.
Likewise, school staff cannot fail to be impacted both emotionally and practically by exclusions. They often have to make special provision to send work home so that the student does not fall too far behind. I know many committed teachers who consider any exclusion as a professional failure, but must balance this against their personal needs and the needs of the other pupils in their class.
In short, the consequences for all involved are serious.
So why are children being excluded? Parentkind recently carried out an online poll of a small sample of mums and dads whose children were in this position, which provides some interesting insights.
We found that almost all who responded reported that their child had a SEND or mental health diagnosis, which is in line with reports that children with SEND are four times more likely to be permanently excluded from school.
Three-quarters told us they did not feel their child’s exclusion was justified and over half said they had a negative experience of talking to headteachers about their child’s exclusion.
Exclusions on the rise
There have already been plenty of warnings about rising exclusion rates. The House of Commons Education Select Committee recently heard that schools are not incentivised to be inclusive in these cases, so it “benefits” the school to exclude more challenging pupils. With schools under considerable performance pressures, there are also reports of them excluding children who may not meet the mark academically or discouraging pupils from choosing subjects in which they have a true interest because they are unlikely to yield top grades.
We need to talk about this culture in our schools and exchange best practice on how to retain as many children as possible in our mainstream education system. From a parent perspective, we know from our research that mums and dads would welcome the following from schools:
1. A deeper understanding of the school exclusion policy, where to find it and to be given this information when their child first starts at the school.
2. Being given a say in shaping or making changes to the school exclusion policy.
3. In the event of their child’s exclusion, being supported by the school and specialist support services during exclusion and also when a child returns to the classroom. Full consideration should be given to all the options available.
Additionally, I would personally like headteachers to be more transparent to the school community on the rates of, and justifications for, exclusions. I welcome Ofsted’s current focus on this matter, too.
We need to ask ourselves whether we want a society and education system that results in increasing numbers of schools being less inclusive spaces for all children. The bottom line for me is the need for all stakeholders on this issue to debate, collaborate and act now, so that we can stem the flow before it becomes an unstoppable and devastating flood.
Michelle Doyle Wildman is acting CEO of Parentkind (formerly known as PTA UK)