Every year, thousands of children are excluded from school, leaving them at risk of being cast out of our education system for good.
New government figures show concerning levels of school exclusions, with nearly four thousand children permanently excluded from school in 2020/21 and over 350,000 suspended for a fixed period.
This year’s statistics have also re-highlighted the continued disproportionate impact school exclusions have. The new figures show that children in receipt of free school meals (FSM) are four times more likely to be excluded than their peers. Children with special educational needs (SEN) with an education, health and care plan (EHCP) are twice as likely, rising to five times as likely if they do not have an EHCP. This trend is simply unacceptable and is failing some of our most vulnerable children.
The prospects for children excluded from school make for grim reading. Only 4% of children excluded from school go on to pass their English and Maths GCSEs, and half fail to sustain employment, education or training post-16. Exclusions have also been shown to negatively impact young people’s mental health.
Failing to act is costing the state significant sums every year. It is estimated that every cohort of excluded children costs £2.1 billion in education, health, benefits, and criminal justice costs. New research from FFT Education Datalab has shown that a quarter of all children who experience a school exclusion go on to receive benefits and 5% end up in custody.
We urgently need to stem the tide of school exclusions and invest in supporting all children to access high quality education that meets their needs.
The long-awaited government SEND Review aims to do just that. It focuses on providing the right support at the right time. Over the last month, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on School Exclusions and Alternative Provision, which I chair, has been meeting with teachers, charities and parents of children excluded from school to hear what needs to change.
Many respondents to our inquiry were upbeat about the recent announcements from government. The SEND Review has been long-awaited and rightly puts a focus on school inclusion and preventing avoidable school exclusions. It is vital that these reforms are taken up by the next government and driven through as they have the potential to change lives.
Our inquiry also heard about the need to better engage children at risk of exclusion and hook them back into the education system. After-school clubs and enrichment activities have the potential to re-engage children at risk of school exclusion, as well as giving them an opportunity to develop their skills and build their confidence.
The inquiry noted the importance of such enrichment activities, but there is rarely time in the school day for such activities. Teachers and school leaders we spoke to highlighted how this kind of support is often ad hoc and not part of the timetable, with some young people being taken out of core lessons to attend, therefore missing out on lesson time. Many also stressed the importance of fully timetabling enrichment and wellbeing activities, to better support all children.
While the challenges are stark, the Government is working on a plan to finally turn the tide on school exclusions. This is a welcome and long-awaited piece of work which must be driven forward, regardless of any changes in leadership. Whoever the new Prime Minister is, they need to carry on this vital work and continue to look at what more can be done to get these children back into school and thriving in their education.
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