Permanent Exclusion And Youth Violence

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Steve Warner

Steve is a deputy headteacher in a large secondary school in Luton. His areas of responsibility include culture and capital and daily operations. He is passionate about ensuring every student accesses a fully inclusive education that allows them to achieve both their academic and personal...
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Is it a huge risk to exclude vulnerable young people?

As part of the recent Beyond The Gate series, I have outlined how schools can respond to the issue of youth violence. Within this blog, I offer some thoughts pertinent to the ongoing political and academic discussions around permanent exclusion and youth violence.

The political debate

In 2016 Vicky Foxcroft MP set up the cross-party Youth Violence Commission (YVC). This examines the root causes of youth violence. It also identifies a number of long term solutions based on the development of a public health approach.

The YVC highlighted the prominent role that schools can provide in offering opportunities and support for young people. It also advocates a public health approach to violence reduction that must include schools and teachers. Data provided by the YVC highlights how the current system is failing some of our young people, particularly when it comes to exclusions and alternative provision.

In 2016/17 only 4.5% of children educated in alternative provision settings achieved a 9-4 pass in GCSE English and maths. Additionally, a 2012 Ministry of Justice study found that 42% of prisoners reported having been permanently excluded from school, rising to 63% for temporary exclusions. Speaking in The House Magazine, Vicky Foxcroft said,

“Of course, it is not inevitable that pupils who have been excluded will go on to become involved in serious violence and crime. However, we cannot ignore the link between school exclusion and social exclusion: once children and young people are permanently excluded, it is very difficult for them to re-enter mainstream education. This means that they are more vulnerable to grooming by criminals and to becoming the victims or perpetrators of violent crime.”

Additionally the Government’s own Serious Violence Strategy recognises school exclusions as one of the risk factors for involvement in serious violence. It also identifies exclusions are on the increase – between 2012/13 and 2016/17 the number rose by 40%.

To exclude or not exclude

The discussions on the links between exclusion and youth violence are increasingly in the political agenda, and with exclusions and “off rolling” given greater prominence by Ofsted, where does this leaves schools?

I am also not advocating that schools should not permanently exclude students. Indeed I recognise that schools sometimes need to permanently exclude to uphold standards and safeguard their community.

However, the following are worthy of note for school leaders, policy makers and commentators.

1. Risk factors

Multiple factors heighten the risk of youth violence. Permanent exclusion is one such factor but many other factors (as outlined with my Beyond The Gate series) originate from outside school communities and are societal causes. Greater understanding of these required within schools and should be included in any discussions on the impact of exclusion.

2. School curriculum

Curriculum changes and the narrowing of offers means that some of those most at risk struggle to access a mainstream curriculum. As a consequence they become disengaged in education, increasingly marginalised and experience a lack of self worth. All these heighten the need for that sense of belonging and increase the risk of youth violence.

3. A proactive school response

All schools need to develop a proactive response to youth violence. Part of this includes educating students to make informed choices and developing the counter narratives. Early identification and targeted multi-agency intervention is essential and that will happen through a better understanding of the issues.

4. Student aspiration

Part of any school response needs to be to raise aspirations and engagement in education of those at risk. If students value and engage in their education they are less likely to place this at risk. They are therefore more likely to be able to make informed and positive choices.

5. Postcode lottery

Within education we need to stop the postcode lottery. This can result in different outcomes within the same school for students originating from different authorities. Typically for us, one authority will only ensure provision once a student has been permanently excluded. On the flip side, a neighbouring authority works proactively to avoid this happening through managed moves or respite provision.

To be clear, these thoughts are non-political and are not necessarily based on academic or social evidence. They are more informed by my understanding of the role schools can play in reducing youth violence. I do, however, consider them worthy of consideration. You can follow those mentioned in this article on Twitter: The Department for EducationVicky Foxcroft, Amanda Spielman, Ann Longfield and others.

3 thoughts on “Permanent Exclusion And Youth Violence

  1. There’s a misleading statement at the beginning…. or at least, that’s how I read it. Cause exclusion = effect prison. This being totally wrong, I think it should be reworded. They might correlate but they are not cause/ effect.

  2. It is not surprising that permanent exclusion is on the rise. Academic research has shown that the third priority for recently academies schools is changing the cohort. This is usually done by introducing draconian rules which lead the most challenged, challenging and vulnerable young people to a fast track permanent exclusion. The rules are often accompanied by a ‘macho’ methodology consisting of male staff shouting at these students to a, Show the other students what the response to rule breaking is and b, to ensure an equally aggressive response leading once again to fast track exclusion. No one should be surprised by the Outwood Grange story in the TES re flattening the grass or a student spending a term in isolation.These stories are just a reflection of these policies. Naturally once you lose the most challenging students from a challenging school then it ceases to become challenging and the young people in question find themselves either out of education, adding two the issues at another local school or in alternative provision.
    The reason why such ‘tactics’ and gaming with student lives is popular is because there is very little, if any incentive in the current Ofsted Inspection Framework and Performance Tables for schools to devote the funding, time and emotional investment to keep these young people in schools. Infact both Ofsted and the Performance Tables provide a perverse incentive to Permanently exclude. As a veteran of challenging schools I would argue that such students take 4x the input of an average student (and I’m not sure how to quantify how such students impact upon the well being and learning of other students and Teachers) and when these efforts not only go unrecognised but result in negative outcomes for the school it is hard to see why schools in the current climate can afford to ‘hold on’ to such students.
    Another complicating factor is that the most challenging schools have the highest percentages of such students, usually operate in difficult socio economic areas and yet are inspected and judged on the same criteria as schools with very low percentages of such students in socio economically positive areas. This is why some schools have never been good – or are good once and then receive a very difficult cohort and become RI the next time they are inspected. Another factor is the difficulty of recruitment to such schools at a time when the number of Teachers joining the profession is falling, the number of teachers leaving is rising and in many cases such schools do not have the funding to offer financial incentives to fill posts – nor are they in attractive towns and cities.
    Another complicating factor has been the impact of austerity on such schools which has seen a huge reduction in the quality and level of resources available to these young people and their families.
    I would suggest that all school leaders should visit such schools and spend time in them – as should Ofsted Inspectors and most importantly politicians. Currently we are nationally complicit in shaming schools and communities who are doing everything they can in incredibly challenging circumstances to hold on to their students even though there is no reward, where finishing secondary education in incredibly trying circumstances is never really recognised and while the data is gathered there isn’t sufficient recognition of the impact a school can have in ensuring such students can take a positive next step – and even now I meet students who are studying or doing well at work and even though they underachieved academically they credit their education and the school hanging on to them as a critical step in their current success.
    Currently success in education is- with few exceptions- and at every level based on privilege. Until as a country we meaningfully address this issue and do more to help those most disadvantaged by a patently unfair system discussions like this one will be never ending.

    1. Hi John – thank you for your comment – well said – and clearly talking from experience. This is the same types of messages and experiences I have had and continue to share, which seems to upset those in policy who simply do not want to hear about it. Do you mind if I turn your comment into a separate blog post on TT? Thanks, Ross

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