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 Education, Vicky Foxcroft, Amanda Spielman, Ann Longfield and others.