A SHARP rise in the number of children being expelled from school indicates a growing crisis in our education system.
Over 40 pupils a day are now permanently excluded and over 2,000 suspended, most commonly for “persistent disruptive behaviour.”
That isn’t the only form of problem behaviour on the rise — more pupils are also being expelled for assaulting other children or adults, sexual misconduct, racist abuse, vandalism or drug and alcohol abuse.
Increased instances of sexual assault among minors may be linked to the growing objectification of women and accessibility of online pornography, while a rise in racist abuse may take its cue from a ruling Conservative Party that promotes racist attitudes with Go Home or Face Arrest vans and tolerance of rampant Islamophobia within its ranks.
But they are all linked to poverty. Pupils on free school meals are around four times more likely to be excluded than their richer classmates.
It’s well established that domestic violence increases in correlation with poverty — the Office for National Statistics found in 2015 that women from the poorest households were three times likelier to be victims of domestic abuse than the better off — and children exposed to or witnessing violence in the home are more likely to develop problem behaviour at school.
Child poverty has soared since the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition came to power in 2010 and the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicted last year it is set to rise even further, with a million more children set to be trapped in poverty over the next five years.
As education unions have repeatedly pointed out, a child’s progress at school cannot be isolated from factors outside it.
Until we see an end to policies that immiserate ever-growing numbers of people in this country — through cuts to public-sector jobs, pay caps lower than inflation, attacks on benefits — teachers will be struggling to cope with the consequences.
But that struggle itself is doomed when schools are starved of resources.
The leaders of the National Association of Head Teachers and the Association of School and College Leaders point out that children’s services are being cut and support for vulnerable pupils is being reduced.
It creates a scissors crisis where cuts to council support for at-risk children leave schools to “pick up the pieces,” in the words of ASCL head Geoff Barton, but the schools themselves have fewer resources to do so.
NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman notes “big cuts to high-needs funding for pupils with identified special educational needs and disabilities … speech and language therapists for pupils with additional needs are disappearing … there are frequently delays in providing mental health support.”
Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman played to the gallery last month with her backing for a “tough stance” on unruly children.
“There is nothing kind about letting a few spoil school for everybody else,” she argued.
But the Institute for Public Policy Research finds that “each excluded child is estimated to cost the state £370,000 in extra education, benefits, healthcare and criminal justice costs” — a list of headings cloaking a lifetime of misery and wasted potential.
Once out of mainstream education, excluded pupils are more than two-and-a-half times more likely than others to be taught by unqualified teachers.
As so often, the most vulnerable receive the least support.
We urgently need a qualified teacher in every classroom to ensure all our children are given the best possible education.
Excluded pupils, aside from being on average poorer than non-excluded ones, will have a range of behavioural issues that require more rather than less expertise.
But prevention is better than cure. The squeeze on school and council budgets is clearly letting down a generation.
Let’s invest in our young people and put a stop to the colossal human damage being done to them by this Conservative government.
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