Hi Reader Friend.
Today, I want to chat with you about exclusions of ‘naughty children’. Hope you are reminded that a child is a child, even if a disruptive one.
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Katie was 14 when she started to display disruptive behaviour in school. “I had no future goals. I thought my life was going to be quite shit to put it honestly.” She grew up in a small town in a home that wasn’t the safe, loving environment that children need. “I had quite a weird family life. My mother had a new boyfriend whose family was quite rough. He was into lots of unlawful things.” She explained how her mother and her mother’s boyfriend had a toxic, abusive relationship that led her to act in a similar way. “I saw these things as the norm – and in turn, my behaviour dwindled.”
At school, Katie’s behaviour deteriorated as she constantly disrespected the teachers and disrupted the classroom. As a final straw, Katie was forced to leave mainstream school and was put into Fresh Start, a programme supporting young people having difficulty accessing education.
Exclusion from mainstream school is not a decision that is made lightly. I spoke with an educational professional (who will be referred to as Tom) who explained the long journey to exclusion: “Exclusion is a very difficult decision to arrive at for professionals. Before a permanent exclusion takes place, there must be evidence of rewards and consequences, parental involvement, input from an educational psychologist, support of ELSAs (Emotional Literary Support Assistant), and a temporary exclusion.” He explained that permanent exclusion – when a child will not be allowed to come back to that school – is a last resort.
From 2017-2018, there were 7,900 children excluded from state-funded schools in the UK. The most common reason for exclusion was persistent, disruptive behaviour. Other reasons include:
· Physical assault against an adult
· Physical assault against a pupil
· Verbal abuse or threatening behaviour against an adult
· Verbal abuse of threatening behaviour against a pupil
· Possession of an offensive weapon
· Possession and or dealing of drugs on school site
After going through all the avenues to attempt fixing the behaviour, a child may be asked to leave the school permanently for the safety and education of the other children in the class. This seems an appropriate decision to make in light of the consequences of that child’s behaviour, but the dilemma in excluding a child from education is the long-term effect on that child.
While any child, regardless of family background could display challenging behaviours in school, it is vulnerable children that tend to be the ones that get excluded. Deborah Barnett of Transforming Lives For Good, a charity that supports children struggling in school, elaborated:
“Half of all children who are excluded from school have a recognised mental health need. This can affect their behaviour; for example, a child with anxiety may be prone to angry outbursts in the classroom. Children with special educational needs (SEN) may have difficulties with the school environment, which can make their behaviour challenging. ‘Sadly, this is often because schools lack the time and resources to help them get a diagnosis, which would trigger funding and
support. Children who are excluded are four times as likely to come from disadvantaged families, or go to school in a deprived area. We know that in wealthier families and schools, children are more likely to receive help and support, including a diagnosis of SEN, whereas in areas of poverty
they may end up being excluded.”
Given the fact that many excluded children have mental health struggles, special education needs, and social deprivation, is it harming them further to continue to exclude them? The short answer, probably yes.
“Exclusion from school is problematic in that in most cases it punishes the most vulnerable students,” Barnett stated. “There is strong evidence of the destructive consequences of being excluded from school they generate multiple short and long-term problems for the excluded child,
including feelings of rejection, isolation, injustice, stigmatisation within their community and concerns over their employability prospects. Exclusion from school is linked to adverse outcomes including bouts of unemployment, poor physical and mental health, involvement in the criminal justice system and homelessness. Those who are most often excluded from are those living in problematic environments, commonly related to several vulnerabilities, such as mental health and social emotional needs, underpinning the behavioural concerns seen in the classroom.”
Katie explained the effect on her life as a result of exclusion. “I would have done my GCSE’s and not had to struggle academically now. I lost my friends and was no longer allowed into the school, even for dinner.” She went on to tell about a relationship that began during the time she was excluded. “I got into a relationship with my kids’ dad who was a horrible person because it was normal to me.” While in Fresh Start, at 15, Katie became pregnant with her first child and never went back into mainstream high school.
Unfortunately, if a child worthy of exclusion remains in mainstream school, it could severely hinder and hurt the other children in the school. If a teacher has to spend all her energy managing one child, the rest of the class does not receive the attention and education that they are entitled to. The other children could also be at risk of emotional and physical danger from the child struggling.
Tom, the educational professional referred to above answered the question of whether or not children should be excluded with a resounding, “Absolutely”. He went on to describe instances when children he worked with persistently stabbed, swore, spat, fled, hit, and threw objects. These behaviours put everyone at risk and cannot be tolerated, even if the child struggling is vulnerable in some way. Teachers and Head Teachers do not want to exclude children. “There is an assumption regularly made that schools don’t want to deal with these children,” Tom stated. He went on to describe that the assumption is nearly always wrong, and that most schools want to meet the needs of a difficult child, but can’t.
Unfortunately, that excluded child is less likely to thrive and succeed in life. His educational opportunities will be reduced. He may feel abandoned, rejected, ignored. Barnett chimed in: “Research has indicated that once a child is excluded, they are twice as likely to be taught by an unqualified teacher and Researchers at the University of Exeter found that being excluded could exacerbate existing mental ill health and trigger long-term psychiatric illness.”
But can schools be expected to more than they already are? At a time when they are already massively stretched due to COVID? Child poverty and mental health illnesses are increasing among young people, which in turn, are likely to increase behaviours that require exclusions. How can teachers be expected to effectively teach if exclusions aren’t used?
Tom suggests that there needs to be a massive societal change. Schools are being given the responsibility for raising our youth. However, all responsibility for a child’s well-being and future shouldn’t be left to schools. A child is the responsibility of a community – be it immediate family, extended family, clubs, churches, social services, neighbours, or friends. This isn’t a quick fix answer, and how to achieve this shift would be complex. But what other way is there?
Barnett expressed that schools should be stepping back and assessing whether behaviour and exclusions are currently appropriate and that the government improve statistics to capture the full extent of pupil exclusion.
Whatever the solution, it is imperative to remember that behind every exclusion is a child. Most likely a child that is missing, or has missed, something he needs for development and flourishing. A child. Whose brain is not fully developed. Who may be seeking attention at school because he doesn’t have it at home. Who may be a product of domestic abuse. Who may be embarrassed by his struggle to learn. Who may feel shame from the poverty he is living in. A child.
Katie has surpassed everyone’s expectations. She has completed courses in Maths, English, Psychology, and IT. She studied beauty in college and worked her way up to manager at a salon, and she is now training to become a nurse. All while raising two beautiful children. Her exclusion didn’t define her. She defied the odds.
But not everyone does.