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Exclusion Myths from the Mayor Of London

November 30, 2022

For some time now, the political classes in London have been trying to blame schools for crime. The latest initiative is a summit on education focused on reducing exclusions because they are believed to drive violent crime. The reporting on this has repeated all sorts of myths and misleading statements. A press release on behalf of the mayor reports:

“Mayor of London’s Violence Reduction Unit holds education summit to deliver on plans to tackle school exclusions

Evidence shows children with a history of exclusion or suspension are more likely to be affected by violence

VRU to work in partnership to develop inclusive checklist to support teachers so exclusion is a last resort”

As teachers know, exclusion is already a last resort. And while, of course, violent criminals are more likely to be excluded than the law-abiding majority, there is no good evidence that permanent exclusions drive violent crime in general or knife crime in particular. A number of dubious claims appear in the press release.

“Nearly 90 per cent of young people in detention [presumably this means custody] had been excluded from mainstream education.”

The source is a report by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons in 2017-18. This was based on a survey of young people in custody, and at the time, suspensions were still called “temporary exclusions” or “fixed term exclusions”. It is highly likely the answers included those who had merely been suspended (or possibly even those who had left their school due to long term imprisonment). More recent research from the DfE and the MoJ found only a minority of those in custody had been permanently excluded (see below) although most had been suspended.

“Ofsted found that children excluded from school were twice as likely to carry a knife.”

When you consider that most excluded pupils are boys and boys are more likely to be involved in violent crime, this increased risk actually seems low. It would certainly be weak evidence of a direct connection between exclusion and knife carrying. But it’s also a completely bogus statistic. The source given is an Ofsted publication that contains no such claim. It does feature the claim (from a survey conducted in schools by the Mayor’s Office For Policing And Crime) that “When looking at PRU attendees, 47% (92 of 196) say they know someone who has carried a knife with them, compared with 25% of non PRU attendees (1188 of 4673)”. This is not the same thing, and it would, of course, be dishonest for the Mayor’s Office to attribute results from their own research to Ofsted. Before I let Ofsted off the hook, the claim that “Children who are excluded from school are twice as likely to carry a knife” appeared in a blogpost about their research. However, the lack of any source suggests this was an error, presumably a bad summary of the statistic about PRUs.

“A study published in 2018 by IPPR also found that each excluded child is estimated to cost the state £370,000 each in extra education, benefits, healthcare and criminal justice costs.”

While it is true that this claim was published in a (frankly terrible) report from IPPR, no calculations to support it were ever published. It has no credibility given that there is no evidence that exclusions create any extra costs related to benefits, healthcare and criminal justice. I blogged about this claim previously.

“Keeping young people in education increases their life chances but in order to do that, it’s vital that schools and teachers are supported in working towards education being fully inclusive, fair and available to all.”

Education is compulsory in England. Exclusion should never result in a child leaving education.

The press release goes on to report that the Mayor has claimed that:

“What’s also clear is that there is a direct correlation between school exclusions and serious violence affecting young people.”

I’m not actually sure where this correlation is meant to occur. Despite its youth crime problems, London actually has one of the lowest rates of permanent exclusions.

The possibility of a connection between exclusions and young people committing violent crime or knife crime is not new. While the Mayor Of London failed to provide compelling evidence, or new or accurate statistics, two recent studies have considered it. A 2018 report from the Ministry Of Justice looked at the educational background of those with a childhood conviction for knife possession. While it acknowledged knife offenders had a higher rate of being excluded from school (at that time this term would probably include suspensions) than other offenders, it concluded the following about permanent exclusions.

Knife possession offences rarely followed exclusions

Only a very small proportion committed the knife possession offence shortly after being excluded from school. For those with a permanent exclusion that came later than their knife possession offence, half were excluded within the next 30 days. Although it is not possible to identify from this analysis whether there is an association between exclusions and knife possession offending, the low volumes of knife possession offences following exclusions mean any such association could not be a significant driver of youth knife possession offending overall.”

A more recent report, (also mentioned above) this time from the MoJ and DfE, looked at the educational and social care backgrounds of offenders. It also found that while the permanently excluded were more likely to offend, the first serious violent offence did not usually follow on swiftly from the first exclusion, while exclusions occurring after a violent offence were often within the first month.

It is depressing that these two pieces of recent research, which did not confirm the idea that exclusions drive knife crime or violent crime, are being ignored while discredited, misleading or blatantly erroneous claims are being used to blame schools for London’s crime problem. Exclusions do not cause crime, criminals do. But exclusions do help protect children from those criminals who are in their classrooms. The Mayor of London needs to listen to teachers before the schools of London become dangerous places where the worst behaviour is tolerated in order to keep exclusions down.

 

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The Blog’s Sweet 16th

November 27, 2022

Every year, I seem to start out resolving to write more, and then, as my actual job of teaching becomes more and more exhausting, I tend to lose the habit. This year, after a good start, the blogging became intermittent after Easter and in danger of disappearing until the next new year’s resolution. But it’s worth one more effort to get back in the habit before then.

In particular, I will not leave it any longer to mark the anniversary of my blog which, at one site or another, has now existed for sixteen years.

In my sixteenth year of blogging, I wrote about the following:

 

The Previous 15 Years Of Blogging

 

Exclusions

 

Behaviour

 

Education Policy

 

Crime and Education

 

Exam Results

 

I also reviewed the following books:

It’s been a bit of a turbulent year for education policy, with what must be a record for changes in education secretary. I had intended to write posts about a number of things that were out of date before I got round to writing them. At one point, an old teaching colleague of mine was schools minister, but he was gone before I had written about him. Things seem a bit more stable now, so hopefully this will give teachers a bit more time and space to respond to developments that affect them.

Thanks to Gwen for all her help and support with the blog. Thanks to everyone who reads, responds and shares blogposts.

Hopefully it won’t be long before I post again.

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A Tale of Three Schools

October 22, 2022

The provisional GCSE results for 2022 were published on Thursday. The score that now gets the most attention is Progress 8, a measure of value added achievement across the curriculum. It is designed so that 0 should be around average and schools are divided into positive and negative scores based on whether their pupils have achieved higher or lower than would be expected from their Key Stage 2 scores. This week’s results are the first results based on actual exams since 2019.

I was particularly interested in the results of three schools. I am ashamed to admit that these are not schools I have a close connection to, and my interest results from the hype about them on social media and on Twitter in particular. This means that what I am about to write reflects my interests, and, therefore, my biases. It also should be noted that the results website has warnings about the problems with making comparisons between schools because of the disruption caused by lockdowns.

I will not be naming the three schools I was interested in. There’s no great secret being withheld here; if you are familiar with any of them you will probably recognise them from the description. Any Google detective can find them. But I have no interest in school shaming and it’s the stories that matter here, not getting people on social media to focus on individual school leaders.

School A – The Traditionalist School

School A is a small free school (120 pupils in year 11) set up by a controversial public figure. It was rated Outstanding by Ofsted before it had published any results. It is known for its strict discipline, particularly its silent corridors. Its controversial headteacher has been described as “Britain’s strictest headmistress” and is a hate figure for supporters of progressive education. Its curriculum is highly academic. Its teaching is very much teacher led. It has been subjected to the most appalling hate campaign from people who seem obsessed with proving that it is cruel and misguided. It has had a very high profile with lots of newspaper articles written about it and a documentary made and broadcast on network television. In 2019, it had its first set of results, which included an incredible Progress 8 score of 1.53. So hated is this school, that its critics have repeatedly pointed out that 4 other schools in England got a higher Progress 8 score, including one in the same LA. It’s hard to imagine any other school being criticised for only being the 5th best in England.

This year, how did School A do? It got a Progress 8 score of 2.27. This time it was the top score of any school in England.

School B – The Progressive School.

School B is philosophically the polar opposite of School A, although it is also a free school and also has a small intake (in fact it’s even smaller with 49 pupils in year 11). This is how a local paper described the approach of the Academy Trust built around it:

…famous for pioneering an alternative method of education focused on creativity as well as academic progress. Pupils are given increased freedoms, conduct their own research and do not need to wear uniforms.

According to a national education news site:

Teachers teach cross-subject, making use of their interests as well as the subjects in which they are academically trained.

Like School A, it has been covered by newspapers, often in a much more positive way. It has also featured in a documentary available on youtube. Some of this media coverage has talked of “outstanding results”, although it’s Progress 8 score of 0.21 in 2019 was hardly in the top rank, particularly given its small cohort. Like school A it was rated Outstanding by Ofsted.

This year, how did School B do? It got a Progress 8 score of -0.78. Even taking account of the small cohort, this makes the school well below average, calling into question its Ofsted rating and the praise of its admirers.

School C – The school that changed

If the other two schools are both exceptional for their distinctive ethos, my final school is exceptional for how the ethos changed. An academy school, it first became prominent for its strict discipline. In 2019, a newspaper article described the head as “Britain’s strictest headmaster” and credited him with turning around a failing school. Much controversy followed, with the school attracting a hate campaign that was smaller than School A’s, but equally obsessive. After being rated Outstanding by Ofsted for a second time in 2018, online trolls used a Freedom of Information request to get the inspectors’ notes and used these to make accusations of off-rolling despite inspectors not concluding this was an issue. Sue Cowley, a prominent advocate of lax discipline in secondary schools, even sent her own FOI request demanding information about exclusions and departures from the school, presumably hoping to find evidence that Ofsted had overlooked.

Impressively, the school achieved a P8 score of 1.16 in 2019 putting it in the top 20 schools in England, level with the much celebrated Mossbourne Community Academy in London. In an ideal world, this story would continue in the same way as the story of School A, with a clearly effective approach being consolidated, and further improvements in results being made. However, this was not to be. The traditionalist approach of the school’s leadership was not shared by its Multi Academy Trust. The Aspirations Academy Trust describes itself on Twitter as “committed to transforming learning to fully equip students with 21st century skills…”. The details are not public but the incredibly successful leadership team of the school moved on and were replaced with those with a different philosophy. In a profile in 2020, the head of school C was described as being on “a mission to move on from the school’s ‘no excuses’ mantra”. In another article she commented on the school’s former leader:

It does seem that his philosophy didn’t reflect the Aspirations Academies Trust. I’m here today to tell you that, moving forward, it’s about having a happy and productive community within the school for students.

This year, how did the once high achieving School C do? It got a Progress 8 score of -0.34.

One of England’s best schools is now very much below average, following a philosophical conversion. Serious questions need to be asked. Why is a MAT able to ruin a highly successful school for ideological reasons? Why does a school maintain its outstanding rating from Ofsted even after it has not only lost the leaders who made it outstanding, but publicly disowned their beliefs? I realise some schools will inevitably be below average, and there are plenty of school leaders who would be happy to get their Progress 8 up to -0.34, but for what was once one of England’s top schools to decline like this is a scandal. It will be interesting to see who, if anyone, is held to account for this.

Exam results are one of the few ways by which we know whether a school is living up to its hype or not. Remember, all three of these schools were outstanding according to Ofsted. Without exam results, it would be easy for a progressive minded person to convince themself that the leaders of School A, and the original leadership of School C were monsters, whereas the leaders of School B and the new leadership of School C were heroes. That’s certainly what much of the commentary on social media was claiming. However, if you value children’s learning, then a working system of standardised exams is your best ally, as exam results reveal what lies behind the hype. Now that the results are out, the true story of Schools A, B and C can be told and the effectiveness of their educational approach can be seen. Odd then, that we still see calls for exams to be replaced with more subjective measures.

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What do children get permanently excluded for?

September 19, 2022

The recently released school exclusion statistics for 2020/21 saw some significant changes in how the reasons for exclusions were recorded. In order to explain the significance of these changes, and how they are relevant to the debate about exclusions, I will first recap how the data was categorised before those changes.

Since 2015/16, two vague categories – “persistent disruptive behaviour” and “other” – have accounted for the majority of permanent exclusions. (Data from here)

2015/16 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19 2019/20
Persistent disruptive behaviour (%) 34.6% 35.7% 34.0% 35.2% 34.5%
Other (%) 16.8% 17.6% 18.2% 17.4% 15.7%
Total 51.4% 53.2% 52.2% 52.6% 50.2%

The vagueness of these categories have allowed those campaigning against exclusions to suggest that most exclusions are for relatively trivial matters. “Persistent disruptive behaviour” is often confused with “low level disruption”, although in my experience it more often describes extreme behaviour that is repeated, and the behaviour of those pupils who are completely out of control. Similarly, “other” is assumed to be less serious because it deals with behaviour that is not covered by more serious sounding categories of exclusion. This might have been a reasonable argument if it were not for the fact that bringing offensive weapons into school did not have a category, and might well be included in “other”.

Assaults accounted for around a quarter of permanent exclusions. This was often not given much attention in public debate about exclusions.

2015/16 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19 2019/20
Physical assault against a pupil (%) 12.3% 13.3% 13.1% 13.3% 12.6%
Physical assault against an adult (%) 10.9% 9.7% 10.7% 10.3% 12.5%
Total 23.2% 22.9% 23.8% 23.7% 25.1%

A further three categories accounted for slightly over a fifth of exclusions. Like assaults, these were not often discussed by those campaigning against exclusions.

2015/16 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19 2019/20
Drug and alcohol related (%) 7.9% 7.3% 8.1% 8.7% 10.1%
Verbal abuse or threatening behaviour against a pupil (%) 4.7% 4.3% 4.3% 3.8% 3.9%
Verbal abuse or threatening behaviour against an adult (%) 9.0% 8.5% 8.2% 8.2% 7.6%
Total 21.5% 20.1% 20.7% 20.8% 21.6%

Then you have all the smallest categories. Some of these would feature in debates about exclusions; bullying, sexual assault and harassment and racism are big issues. However, opponents of exclusions would often emphasise how few permanent exclusions they account for. Curiously, people who would use these figures to claim we don’t need many permanent exclusions, because sexual assault and harassment, or racial abuse are rare, would immediately pivot to arguing that they are common when discussing those issues in any context other than exclusions.

2015/16 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19 2019/20
Bullying (%) 0.6% 0.3% 0.4% 0.4% 0.4%
Damage (%) 1.3% 1.2% 1.0% 0.9% 1.3%
Racist abuse (%) 0.2% 0.3% 0.2% 0.2% 0.3%
Sexual misconduct (%) 1.0% 1.3% 1.3% 1.1% 0.8%
Theft (%) 0.6% 0.5% 0.5% 0.5% 0.4%
Total 3.8% 3.7% 3.3% 3.0% 3.0%

For the academic year 2020-2021, changes have been made that address the problem of “persistent disruptive behaviour” and “other” making up most exclusions. Firstly, the category of “other” has been removed. Secondly, a number of new categories have been introduced. Thirdly, it is now possible to give up to three reasons for an exclusion.

The removal of “other” and its replacement with new categories has revealed that “other” does not seem to be minor offences.

Exclusions Percentage
Abuse against sexual orientation and gender identity 11 0.28%
Abuse relating to disability 0 0.00%
Inappropriate use of social media or online technology 36 0.92%
Use or threat of use of an offensive weapon or prohibited item 541 13.77%
Wilful and repeated transgression of protective measures in place to protect public health 77 1.96%

I should note that I’ve calculated the number of exclusions in each category as a percentage of the total number of exclusions. The DfE website has not been adequately updated and calculates percentages based on the total number of reasons given for exclusions.

These new categories seem to have been drawn almost entirely from newspaper headlines. The eye opener here is the category “Use or threat of use of an offensive weapon or prohibited item”. When we consider that “other” was the reason for 15.7% of exclusions in 2021, for this new category to include 13.8% of exclusions suggests that the existence of the category “other” has largely been hiding the issue of weapons. I suspect this mainly refers to knives, and I would suggest it is seen as a very pressing reason for exclusion by many schools.

The fact that exclusions can now be given for up to 3 reasons gives us an insight into what was being missed previously. Working out what the new figures reveal is not an easy task. I have done my best, but I am open to any suggestions about how else to approach this. Although there were 3928 exclusions in total for 2020-21, there were 5146 reasons for exclusion given. So there are 31% more reasons than exclusions. This means that we would expect most categories to include proportionately more exclusions than previously. I am going to assume that 31% is the dividing line between those offences that schools were generally willing to give as the main reason for exclusion, and those that were being hidden by the old system of categorising reasons. Generally, I try to avoid using statistics that involve finding a percentage of a percentage, but I can’t think of a better option here. I have calculated each reason as a percentage of the total number of exclusions and the percentage change in the proportion of exclusions in each of the existing categories since 2019-20.

Those which have increased by less than 31% (i.e. the amount by which reasons outnumber exclusions), will presumably be the ones that have not been hidden to a great extent by the old way of giving reasons.

2019/20 20/21 % Increase
Drug and alcohol related (%) 10.1% 10.4% 2.1%
Persistent disruptive behaviour (%) 34.5% 38.8% 12.6%
Physical assault against an adult (%) 12.5% 14.5% 15.7%
Theft (%) 0.4% 0.5% 28.7%

These are presumably the reasons that tended to be given as the main reason for exclusion, even where a pupil was a repeat offender. I would expect that for the three categories other than persistent disruptive behaviour they were the most serious offence that led to the exclusion. In the case of persistent disruptive behaviour, I suspect that category was probably used to cover repeat offending even where it was more than simply “disruptive”.

The following categories are the ones that were not sufficiently visible when schools could only give one reason.

2019/20 20/21 % Increase
Verbal abuse or threatening behaviour against a pupil (%) 3.9% 6.7% 75.0%
Physical assault against a pupil (%) 12.6% 22.4% 76.9%
Verbal abuse or threatening behaviour against an adult (%) 7.6% 14.4% 88.1%
Damage (%) 1.3% 2.8% 115.9%
Bullying (%) 0.4% 0.8% 121.7%
Sexual misconduct (%) 0.8% 1.8% 127.8%
Racist abuse (%) 0.3% 1.1% 345.6%

It is noticeable that some of these seem to be quite serious offences and, therefore, it should be a matter of concern that the old system of categorising seemed to understate them.

I had been arguing for a number of years that “other” and “persistent disruptive behaviour” were hiding some serious offences and were not categories for less serious exclusions. I think the evidence here supports that, although I am open to any alternative analyses and explanations of what the figures show. Certainly, anyone who has been arguing that exclusions tended to be for trivial offences now has some explaining to do. In particular, I would draw attention to the figures for assaults. We already knew that around a quarter of exclusions were for assault. Because both types of assault (i.e. against an adult and against a pupil) might be given as reasons for an exclusion, we don’t know how many exclusions in 2020-21 were for assault, but we now know it could be anywhere up to 36.8%.

There’s an even more striking statistic for primary schools. Out of a total of 392 exclusions in primary schools in 2020-21, 203 (51.8%) were for reasons that included assault against an adult. This seems to be quite an important statistic at a time when there have been calls to end primary school exclusions. When you consider that the overwhelming majority of adults working in primary schools are women, the call for greater tolerance for assault against them seems particularly regressive.

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Why Do Some Ethnic Groups Have Higher Exclusion Rates? Part 2

August 21, 2022

I have been looking at the the differences in the exclusion rates for different ethnic groups. In Part 1, I observed that ethnic minority pupils generally don’t have a higher exclusion rate than white British pupils, and that those ethnic groups that consistently have higher exclusion rates tend to make up only a small proportion (11%) of ethnic minority pupils. The way we divide people into ethnic groups seems to create more groups with disparities than would be expected. In that previous post, I identified 5 ethnic groups that consistently have a higher exclusion rate than white British pupils.

Ethnic Group Number of Pupils % of pupils Number of exclusions (2020/21)
Ethnicity Minor Any other black background 64,064 0.77% 43
Ethnicity Minor Black Caribbean 82,726 1.00% 70
Ethnicity Minor Gypsy Roma 25,836 0.31% 46
Ethnicity Minor Traveller of Irish heritage 6,140 0.07% 6
Ethnicity Minor White and Black Caribbean 129,193 1.56% 153

These groups are small, and unrepresentative of ethnic minority pupils as a whole. One way to picture this is to imagine teaching a class of 27 pupils who are representative of the entire state school pupil population. In that class you would have 18 white British pupils and 9 ethnic minority pupils. Of those 9 ethnic minority pupils, 7 would be consistently less likely to be excluded than the white British pupils. 1 would be more likely to be excluded than the white British pupils in some years, but less likely in other years. And 1 would be consistently more likely to be excluded than the white British pupils. The debate about exclusions and ethnicity seems to be entirely focused on that 1 pupil.

Because the exclusion rate is very low (particularly in 2020/21), and these groups of pupils are very small, the higher rate of exclusions for these groups actually represents very small numbers, as can be seen from the table above. Given that there are well over  twenty thousand schools in England, it should be noted that relatively few headteachers have permanently excluded pupils from any of these groups. Even if some of those headteachers have made the wrong decision in some of these cases, it would be odd to extrapolate from them to the whole education system. Yet a lot of the discussion assumes these figures represent a systemic problem with exclusions, or with prejudice in exclusions. If you are convinced these exclusions must include some that are unfair, it would make more sense to ask the DfE to scrutinise the individual exclusions than to change policy regarding exclusions. There is certainly no reason to think most exclusions are unfair because of these 5 groups.

Opponents of exclusions use the exclusion figures for those 5 groups to generalise about all ethnic minorities and about the entire education system. There is also a tendency to generalise about the experiences of pupils in these 5 groups. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is how little exclusion rates actually tell us about an ethnic group. The conventional way to consider the effects of ethnicity on exclusions is to look at the exclusion rates of ethnic groups with high rates of exclusion and compare them to white British pupils (or all white pupils or all pupils). So, for instance, this chart emphasises the disparities.

However, most pupils in every ethnic group are unlikely to be excluded. The every day reality of school for most pupils in every ethnic group is perhaps better given by a graph showing the proportion of pupils not excluded.

The differences in exclusion rates are barely visible. All pupils in all ethnic groups are extremely unlikely to be permanently excluded. The disparities in exclusions do not tell us about entire ethnic groups. The exclusion rate for an ethnic group tells us about a fraction of 1% of pupils in that ethnic group. A difference in inclusion rates is not a judgement on an entire ethnic group. Trying to explain disparities in exclusion rates, using our knowledge of the entire group, is likely to be a waste of time. The tiny scale of the issue may be why so much of the debate consists of people misrepresenting the extent to which exclusions happen, and exaggerating the likely consequences of being excluded.

Having said all this, it might still be possible to say more about the causes of disparities in exclusion rates between different ethnic groups if we are willing to look at all the data, rather than just those groups that have a higher exclusion rate than white British pupils. It has never seemed plausible to me that ethnic groups who differ in location, social class, family structure, level of parental education, peer groups and so many other things, should be expected to all have identical levels of exclusion. It would be interesting to see if we can find any drivers for exclusion that explain those differences.

There are no shortage of campaigning groups out there who claim, often on very limited evidence, to know what causes exclusions. When it comes to race, explanations usually involve the claim that ethnic minorities are suffering some form of injustice that results in a higher rate of exclusions. As already discussed, in reality, we have very limited data and most disparities between ethnic groups are in the opposite direction. However, there is one factor that does seem to drive differences in exclusions between ethnic groups. If I combine the exclusion data from here and the Free School Meal data from here I get the following.

There is a strong positive correlation (r=0.76) between the exclusion rate for an ethnic group and the percentage of pupils having Free School Meals. The one point on that scatter graph that is an obvious outlier is travellers of Irish descent, the smallest ethnic group (6012 pupils) we have figures for. The small numbers involved (6 pupils excluded) make it unsurprising that the rate doesn’t fit the pattern.

Now, it is already known that Free School Meals pupils have a much higher exclusion rate (0.12 to 2 decimal places) than those who don’t (0.03), but the numbers here are greater than can be explained by the proportion of FSM pupils in each group. However, the FSM percentage is usually considered a good proxy for disadvantage. The simplest explanation here is that the exclusion rates for ethnic groups depend to a large extent on how disadvantaged that ethnic group is. Disadvantage that is concentrated in an ethnic group has more of an effect on exclusions than disadvantage that is spread throughout the population.

We now have two reasons for why some ethnic groups have a higher exclusion rate than white British pupils. In this post, we have observed that differing levels of disadvantage seem to have a big influence. From the previous post, the way the data has been subdivided into small groups, seemed significant. I suspect the two are connected, with disadvantage being a major reason why a small ethnic group would be considered in isolation in the statistics.

Returning to the five ethnic groups with highest exclusion rates, they were also the groups with highest FSM rates. (For comparison, 20% of White British pupils have Free School Meals.)

Ethnicity FSM% 
Any other Black background 32.8
Black Caribbean 37.6
Mixed – White and Black Carribean 38.8
Gypsy/Roma 47.2
Traveller of Irish heritage 63.5

We might need additional factors to explain why some groups have a lower exclusion rate than their FSM numbers would suggest. We might find out more about the causes of exclusions if we could explain why Bangladeshi pupils, black African pupils or mixed race pupils with white and black African parents are less likely to be excluded than white British pupils despite having proportionately more FSM pupils (although still below the 5 groups mentioned above). There may be factors around the history, geography or sociology of these groups that explain why disadvantage seems to affect some ethnic groups less than others. However, I’m not sure we actually have data that would enable us to do that*. I suspect our efforts might even drift into relying on stereotypes (“oh, this ethnic group is a bit more studious and compliant than this ethnic group”).

Overall though, when it comes to explaining why some ethnic groups have an exclusion rate much higher than white British pupils, there seems little need to look for any explanation beyond economic disadvantage and the habit of government statisticians to subdivide disadvantaged groups more than other groups. This should not be the end of the story. This does not answer the question of why entrenched disadvantage in a small ethnic group will result in more exclusions. More should be done to address disadvantage. However, it seems unlikely that schools can do this alone, and there is no obvious case that it is schools that are to blame for the pattern of exclusions.


*More data relevant to these questions may be available in the future when more information from the 2021 Census is published. There is also a discussion to be had about what data schools collect. One reason why we end up discussing ethnicity and disadvantage so much in education is because every effort is made to collect and process detailed information on ethnicity and indicators of disadvantage. One wonders whether we might have completely different perspectives and priorities if, say, information on family structure and level of parental education was the priority.

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Why do some ethnic groups have higher exclusion rates? Part 1

August 10, 2022

One of the most confused parts of the debate about exclusions from school relates to race and ethnicity. For many journalists, politicians and activists it simply must be the case that ethnic minority pupils, particularly black pupils, are more likely to be excluded. The 2 most recent sets of figures are from the 2019/20 and 2020/21 academic years  They do not show that ethnic minority pupils or black pupils are more likely to be excluded than white British pupils.

2019/20 2020/21
Ethnicity Minor White British 0.07 0.05
Ethnicity Major Black Total 0.07 0.05
Ethnicity Minority ethnic pupil 0.05 0.04

“Minor” here means a category that cannot be subdivided further; “major” is one that can be subdivided. The rates here are the number of exclusions for the pupils in a category, divided by the number of pupils in the category, written as a percentage, so 0.05 means 1 in 2000 pupils were excluded during the year. The DfE rounds exclusion rates to two decimal places. If we calculated further decimal places, the exclusion rate for black pupils would actually be lower than for white British pupils. However, in both years there were over 100 excluded pupils who were categorised as “ethnicity unclassified” which gives us a potentially large margin of error for these statistics, so comparisons based on only those more precise figures probably can’t be relied upon.

Why are so many people convinced that exclusion rates for ethnic minority pupils, and black pupils in particular, are higher? One reason is that this was the case historically. As recently as the 00s, ethnic minority pupils were slightly likelier to be excluded than white British pupils and black pupils were around twice as likely to be excluded. It is only recent years that ethnic minority pupils have become much less likely to be excluded than white British pupils, and it is only in the last two years that black pupils were no more likely to be excluded than white British pupils.

(Data from here. Despite what I said above about the margin for error, I have calculated the figures as precisely as possible just to make the lines clearer on the graph.)

I have in the past suspected that another reason for the widespread belief that black pupils are more likely to be excluded is because so much coverage of exclusions is driven by London based media and politicians. Racial disparities exist in London that don’t exist elsewhere. Inner London has a really low rate of permanent exclusions for white British pupils. In 2019-2020 London was the only region of England where the ethnic minority exclusion rate was higher than the white British exclusion rate. And in that year, while there were other regions where the exclusion rate for black pupils were a little higher than for white British pupils, Inner London was the only region where it is a lot higher.

(Data from here).

In 2020-21, however, this did change slightly, with the disparity between black and white British pupils narrowing dramatically in Inner London and widening in the South West.

However, Inner London remains the only region where ethnic minority pupils are more likely to be excluded than white British pupils.

For whatever reason, there are countless commentators who simply cannot admit what recent figures show about racial disparities. I am continually seeing false claims about this topic. Often this is justified by using out of date data. Sometime people use white pupils (including ethnic minority pupils) as the baseline for comparison instead of white British pupils, which creates a small disparity in 2019/20. Sometimes people just lie or repeat something they’ve heard without checking if it’s true.

However, the single most common way to suggest that exclusions discriminate is to subdivide into much smaller categories than ethnic minority pupils or black pupils, then pretend that what is true for some of these smaller subgroups is true for much larger groups. Exclusion data is collected for 18 separate “minor” groups (i.e. groups that cannot be further subdivided):

  • Ethnicity Minor Any Other Ethnic Group
  • Ethnicity Minor Any other Asian background
  • Ethnicity Minor Any other Mixed background
  • Ethnicity Minor Any other black background
  • Ethnicity Minor Any other white background
  • Ethnicity Minor Bangladeshi
  • Ethnicity Minor Black African
  • Ethnicity Minor Black Caribbean
  • Ethnicity Minor Chinese
  • Ethnicity Minor Gypsy Roma
  • Ethnicity Minor Indian
  • Ethnicity Minor Irish
  • Ethnicity Minor Pakistani
  • Ethnicity Minor Traveller of Irish heritage
  • Ethnicity Minor White British
  • Ethnicity Minor White and Asian
  • Ethnicity Minor White and Black African
  • Ethnicity Minor White and Black Caribbean

Not surprisingly, these categories do not all have the exact same exclusion rates. There are even a few persistent inequalities. We can divide the categories into 3 separate groups.

Those that consistently have a lower exclusion rate than white British pupils. These have all had an exclusion rate that (to two decimal places) was lower than white British pupils in every year of the last 5 years.

  • Ethnicity Minor Any Other Ethnic Group
  • Ethnicity Minor Any other Asian background
  • Ethnicity Minor Any other white background
  • Ethnicity Minor Bangladeshi
  • Ethnicity Minor Black African
  • Ethnicity Minor Chinese
  • Ethnicity Minor Indian
  • Ethnicity Minor Pakistani
  • Ethnicity Minor White and Asian

Those that consistently have a higher exclusion rate than white British pupils. These have all had an exclusion rate that was higher than white British pupils in every year of the last 5 years.

  • Ethnicity Minor Any other black background
  • Ethnicity Minor Black Caribbean
  • Ethnicity Minor Gypsy Roma
  • Ethnicity Minor Traveller of Irish heritage
  • Ethnicity Minor White and Black Caribbean

Those where the exclusion rate is not consistently above or below the rate for white British.

  • Ethnicity Minor Any other Mixed background
  • Ethnicity Minor Irish
  • Ethnicity Minor White and Black African

A list of exclusion rates for each ethnic group for any of the last five years will therefore, put white British pupils somewhere between the 6th and the 9th place for exclusions out of 18 ethnic groups. This means that, at a glance, it white British pupils are around halfway down the list and, therefore, it can be claimed that up to half of ethnic minority groups are disproportionately excluded. However, this can be misleading because the 18 ethnic groups are very different in size. When you take account of how many pupils there are in each of these groups, the ethnic groups that have a consistently higher exclusion rate than white British pupils account for just 11% of England’s ethnic minority pupils.

Consistently lower than white British pupils 2 176 731
Consistently higher than white British pupils 307 959
Not consistently above or below white British pupils 293 451

Much of the commentary we encounter consistently cherrypicks the ethnic groups in the orange slice and implies that they represent the whole pie chart.

It is unlikely that the groups with a higher exclusion rate would be so small just by chance. Ethnic minority pupils have been subdivided so that there is a moderate negative correlation (r=-0.44) between an ethnic group’s exclusion rate and its size, i.e. the smaller an ethnic group is, the more likely it is to have a high exclusion rate.

The categories for ethnic groups seem to be based on those used in the census. From what I’ve read the development of categories over time involves quite a lot of consultation and many considerations and I wouldn’t claim to understand the details. However, it would appear that there is a greater willingness to split up disadvantaged groups (like Travellers) into smaller groups, while keeping other, less disadvantaged groups (like the category made up of half a million white ethnic minority pupils) undivided. And while this may make sense for monitoring disadvantage, it means that lists based on this division give undue prominence to some small, but disadvantaged, groups. And that has enabled statistics describing just 11% of ethnic minority pupils to completely dominate the debate about exclusions and ethnicity. So, my first answer to the question of why some ethnic groups have higher exclusion rates is that it’s partly because of how the data has been sliced up, and that’s just a feature of how we analyse exclusions, not a feature of the exclusions themselves.

Of course, even when we recognise that the 11% of ethnic minority pupils are unrepresentative of ethnic minority pupils in general, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be an important consideration. But it does mean that in finding out why they have higher exclusion rates, we may need to work out what makes them different from the vast majority of ethnic minority pupils. This is a potentially controversial question that I hope to return to.

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New Exclusion Figures

July 28, 2022

The latest exclusion and suspension figures are now out. They can be found here. They are based on the 2020-2021 academic year, which was the second year to be affected by a lockdown due to Covid. Lockdown covered a much shorter period in this academic year than in 2019-2020.

Permanent exclusions have fallen for the third year in a row. Obviously, the lockdown periods are the key reason for the two most recent years being lower than previously, but it was not widely foreseen that there would be a dramatic fall in the year with a shorter period of lockdown. It’s possible lower attendance was a factor, or it could be that a lockdown after the Christmas holidays is at a far more critical time for exclusions.

Suspensions have risen, although they are still far below pre-pandemic levels. One possible explanation for this is that suspensions are used as a substitute for exclusions, and this rise has resulted from the fall in exclusions.

When the previous set of figures came out a year ago, there was a new element to the data I did not agree with. Figures were produced for each term of 2019/20 and, retrospectively, for 2018/19. This was then used to compare the uninterrupted autumn term of 2019 with the autumn term of 2018, and declare that there was some kind of increasing trend. This never made much sense. You cannot identify a trend from two data points. Besides, without autumn data for previous years, it was impossible to tell if year on year comparison of termly figures were a good predictor of the overall change in exclusions. We can now see that the two data points did not represent an ongoing trend; the autumn term of 2020 showed a decrease on the previous autumn term that was much larger than the increase the year before. (Autumn terms are shown in orange below.)

I suspect though, that this new “trend” won’t be anywhere near as widely reported. It irritates me that the DfE played a part in using cherrypicked data to give journalists a bad news story.

London and the South East remain the regions with the lowest rates for permanent exclusions. (These are the number of exclusions as a percentage of the relevant population.)

Will the people claiming knife crime in London, and county lines drugs dealing between London and the South, are driven by school exclusions notice this? I doubt it.

Suspensions are again lower in London than elsewhere.

Will people stop claiming that knife crime in London is driven by suspensions? I suspect not.

As with last year, black pupils and white British pupils have the same exclusion rate (black pupils have a slightly lower rate if you calculate it to another decimal place). Ethnic minority pupils continue to have a lower exclusion rate. The disparity in exclusions between white British and black Caribbean pupils is lower than it’s ever been. There are a non-negligible number of excluded children whose ethnicity is not recorded, so there is potentially a margin of error for close comparisons. However, if you ignore that and work out the figures to a couple more decimal places, this is the second year in a row where black pupils are less likely to be excluded than white British pupils. It used to be the case that black pupils were much more likely to be excluded. This is a change that activists, politicians and journalists have not noticed.

A lot of concerns about permanent exclusion centre on black Caribbean pupils, and particularly black Caribbean pupils in London. In 2020-21 there were 70 black Caribbean pupils excluded in England, 35 of whom were in London. This is slightly disproportionate (although I suspect it won’t be if you adjust for Free School Meals). However, the numbers are now so low that anyone who claims this shows systemic racism in England’s 24413 schools, or that it is the cause of knife crime in London will, I hope, now be ignored.

It’s interesting now to look back and see what the “experts” and commentators said would happen to exclusions in 2020/21.

In April 2020, Kiran Gill of The Difference, wrote a Times article entitled “Trauma of pandemic will lead to a rise in school exclusions”. It warned of upcoming problems.

With thousands of coronavirus deaths, I keep wondering: how many children will suffer trauma over the next six months? Trauma is often the root cause of unmanageable and challenging behaviour which spirals eventually to school exclusion…

… The first priority is to ensure that high-needs funding is increased to prepare alternative provision schools for a likely increase in numbers of children being excluded.

In October 2020, Oxford University’s Department of Education published a report (written in June).

It promised to look at “potential new and heightened risks for school exclusions caused by the recent Covid-19 pandemic” and warned:

With schools being encouraged to update their behaviour policies to include new rules to ensure the health and safety of staff and students and abide by public health advice, there are concerns that schools will become far less tolerant of students who refuse to follow instructions and comply with expectations, which may result in an increase of both formal and informal exclusions. Stricter policies may also discriminate or unfairly increase the risk of exclusion for certain young people, for example, children who have conditions which make it hard for them to obey social distancing or working in ‘bubbles’…

A report from the Youth Violence Commission warned that:

The full extent of the lockdown’s effects on young people’s mental health, educational attainment, attitudes and behaviour will not be known for many years, but it is highly likely that schools will face severe challenges in the short to medium term.

If schools are unable to adapt and cope with these challenges, then there are serious risks of an additional spike in school exclusions

No More Exclusions, in a report released in 2021, based on FOI requests that were used to gather largely inaccurate data, wrote:

Considering pupils’ anxiety, loss, bereavement, poverty and digital inequality are only being exacerbated as the pandemic continues, our findings are
particularly worrying and indicate that exclusions are being used to address or at least manage these additional pressures.

The RSA put together a panel to discuss “growing concern that Covid-19 disruption is creating the conditions for a rise in school exclusions”.

I’ll stop there. There was a general consensus amongst the usual suspects that after the 2020 lockdown we could expect to see a high rate of exclusions. While they could not have foreseen the lockdown in the spring term, exclusions were not high even in the other two terms. When it comes to exclusions, a lot of people are treated as important voices who are actually just interested in creating alarm and have little insight or knowledge of the issue.

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Are exclusion rates for black Caribbean students up to six times higher?

May 31, 2022

The Guardian recently chose to print an utterly uncritical piece on No More Exclusions, the campaigning group that wants even the most dangerous young criminals to stay in school with their victims. More accurate information about that group and their appalling views can be found here (from me) or here (from the TES). While I’m very disappointed at the Guardian for this, in this post I wish only to address one point made in that article:

The racial disparities are stark, with exclusion rates for black Caribbean students up to six times higher than those of their white peers in some local authorities, according to a recent Guardian analysis.

I wrote about that “analysis” when it was published, in this post: How misleading was today’s Guardian article on exclusions?  

The entire article was cherrypicked data, almost certainly intended to mislead. In particular:

  • Ethnic minority groups were broken down into the smallest possible categories and those ethnic groups that had lower exclusion rates than white British pupils were ignored (despite being the overwhelming majority of ethnic minority pupils);
  • Fixed term exclusion rates were used instead of permanent exclusion rates;
  • England was broken down into 150 LAs, and figures were given for the LAs with the most extreme discrepancies.

The article then repeated claims about how this was an incredible injustice for pupils from an ethnic minority background, and calls for changes in national policy, as if the statistics applied to all ethnic minorities in the whole of England. Later Guardian stories (like this one and, before it was corrected two weeks later, this one) referred back to the article as if it was about black pupils in general rather than black Caribbean pupils in a handful of LAs.

However, even if the article had been honest in the first place, there are several reasons why the specific statistic about black Caribbean pupils being up to six times as likely to be excluded should not still be being repeated.

Firstly, it is not, as described, “a recent Guardian analysis”. It was published over a year ago. When I wrote about that in my previous blogpost, I assumed it was based on data that had been released in February 2021 and it had taken the Guardian a month to subdivide the data in ways that supported a narrative of discrimination. Looking back now, I can’t actually see any reason to think it wasn’t based on data that was first published in July 2020. Regardless, it was data about the 2018-19 school year, and data on the 2019-20 school year was published in July 2021 and so, far from being “recent”, that analysis has been out of date for 10 months.

Secondly, in the more recent statistics, the term “suspensions” has replaced “Fixed Term Exclusions”. Suspensions are when a student is temporarily removed from school, usually for a day or two and rarely for more than a week. When a child is expelled it is called a “permanent exclusion”. Referring to suspensions as exclusions has allowed anti-exclusion campaigners to misrepresent the data for many years by confusing expulsion and suspension. As mentioned earlier, the original Guardian “analysis” used the figures for Fixed Term Exclusions. While it is in a paragraph that mentions suspensions, to continue to quote it in an article about exclusions, where many of the claims are clearly about permanent exclusions, is misleading.

Thirdly, although the “up to six times higher” statistic was apparently the headline when that article was the cover story of the print edition of the Guardian, the online version had a different headline. In the text it was admitted that the six times figure came from Cambridgeshire, and that  “Cambridgeshire has a relatively small number of Caribbean students, which partially explains the disparity”. The new headline was “Exclusion rates five times higher for black Caribbean pupils in parts of England”. So in it’s article about No More Exclusions, The Guardian is quoting something that is not just out of date, but that they have previously corrected.

That last point might seem relatively minor, after all, does the difference between six times and five times matter? In fact, the Guardian reported that Brent was excluding black Caribbean pupils at 5.9 times the exclusion rate for white pupils. So what difference does it make that the six times figure is marginally higher? I think what’s most misleading about including it is that in mentioning Cambridgeshire, it suggests the disparities being described are a national issue. Without the Cambridgeshire figure, every single LA featured in the Guardian’s graphic (below) is in London.

London does contain the majority of England’s black Caribbean pupils, so it is perhaps unsurprising that many would be from London. However, if you look at the racial disparities in exclusions between black Caribbean and white British pupils, while racial disparities exist outside of London, they seem to be less common and on a smaller scale. I have looked at LAs with more that 750 black Caribbean pupils, a somewhat higher threshold than the Guardian’s. This is what the disparities look like (London LAs are in blue, non-London LAs are in orange).

 

I don’t mean to suggest that disproportionate suspension of black Caribbean pupils is not an issue. or even that it is never an issue outside of London. But, it is a far more pressing issue in London, where most of England’s black Caribbean pupils go to school and where many LAs have very high exclusion rates for black Caribbean pupils. At some point I hope to blog in detail about how London’s exclusion data is very different to the rest of England’s, but here I hope it is obvious how the Guardian’s methodology distorts the exclusions debate to make one of London’s issue seem like a more general issue for England.

If we accept that it is mainly London that has a problem with disproportionate suspension of black Caribbean pupils, then we might end up looking at what else is exceptional about suspensions in London. We would then, perhaps be interested in whether suspension rates varied between regions.

From the above graph, the most noticeable thing about suspensions in London is how rarely they are used. Correlation is not causation, so I’m not going to claim that having a low use of suspensions widens racial disparities. But this should be reason to stop assuming that racial disparities are a reason to use suspensions less. The lesson from London could well be that where people let kids off of suspensions that are deserved, it is white British kids who are most likely to be let off. At the very least, we should consider the possibility that it is not just sanctions that might have a disproportionate impact on some ethnic groups. It might be that reluctance to use a sanction, or political pressure not to use it, has a disproportionate impact on different ethnic groups. The Guardian was so busy looking for reasons to argue against exclusions, that it missed the real story of the suspension data. The story that London has a unique problem with racial disparities in suspensions, and that this has happened in a city that stands out for having kept suspensions low.

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“Just Give Them A Pen”

May 21, 2022

There are people on Twitter, like this educationalist, who seem to hate the fact that schools have rules.

Ignoring the question of why the taxpayer is funding people with such low expectations of children to train teachers, I wanted to single out the daftest of the complaints here: the objection to enforcing the rule that pupils in school should have something to write with.

This has been immortalised in… I think it’s a poem… in which child neglect is used as a reason not to enforce rules.

This is performative compassion. It’s all about how the adult feels, rather than what’s best for the child. It’s not actual compassion, because reporting child neglect is the compassionate thing to do. Lowering expectations in order to normalise, or even conceal, neglect is not compassionate. Any school that just assumes its pupils are suffering neglect is a safeguarding risk. Children’s suffering is something to be reported, not something you build into your expectations. That’s not to say that while neglect was being dealt with a school wouldn’t help a child, including help ensuring they are equipped for the day, but there is no obvious benefit to changing what’s expected in lessons.

Assuming we are designing rules for the best interests of the students, not to display our own virtue, the case for rules about equipment is pretty straightforward, if you are familiar with even half-way challenging secondary schools. In fact, one has to assume that people who oppose such rules are imagining a completely unrealistic scenario for challenging schools. They are assuming that occasionally one child forgets a pen, entirely by accident, and politely asks for one at the first opportunity. The teacher immediately lends it. At the end of the lesson they return it without being asked. This might well happen in the most privileged schools.

What actually happens in challenging schools where rules about equipment are not enforced is quite different. Every lesson, several children (usually the ones who are slow to engage at the best of times) will sit doing no work. When confronted individually they say they don’t have a pen. When told they should have one they argue. The teacher lends out pens, which will amount to dozens in a day. It will add minutes to the time it takes to start the lesson. This extra wasted time will take place when the teacher is already very busy, either supervising children getting into the classroom, settling them or setting up the lesson. Few pens are subsequently returned. Several are destroyed. The same routine is then repeated if work requires a pencil, a ruler or a calculator. The teacher ends up buying pens from their own money. The school may well become littered with broken pens.

Of course, if required, teachers can come up with routines to stop this waste of time and resources. Although usually the methods of saving time, waste more resources and the methods of saving resources, waste more time. Regardless, you end up with all sorts of pen lending routines. Requiring pupils to identify their need for a pen immediately. Making a pot of pens available for pupils to collect. Counting pens in and out. Making them swap something they can’t afford to lose (a phone or a shoe, maybe) for the pen. Writing names on the board for students who have borrowed a pen. Even if these routines are effective, they are often more effort for all concerned than simply requiring everyone to bring in a pen.

Often the routines are not effective. After all, what you are doing is lowering expectations. Children should be able to bring a pen to lesson. They often have a pen, they are just wasting time for the sake of it. By lowering expectations you are doing them no favours. You are making them into worse people. In the worst school I worked in for low expectations regarding equipment, it became so normal for pupils to just help themselves to pens, that if you didn’t put a freshly stocked pot of pens out for them, they would rifle through your cupboards and desk looking for pens. Because replacing pens was expensive, and the departmental stocks would run out early in the year, some of us would stock up our pens by just picking them up off of the floor in corridors and on break duty. Kids would discard them all over the place, because they were being taught pens were worthless, and that the only person who should care whether they were ready to learn in lessons was their teacher. Nobody was benefitting from these low expectations.

Other experiences showed me the benefits of having a sanction for not bringing in a pen. Something I have experienced many times, as have many other teachers, is the pupil who turns up without a pen until they are reminded there is a sanction for this. Suddenly, they find a pen that they had all along. When I’ve asked some of these pupils why they asked for a pen, many have said “I just couldn’t be bothered to get it out”. What you permit is what you promote so by treating having a pen as optional, you promote this.

The experience that most informs my thinking on this was a school I worked in that changed its expectations. A policy was introduced of giving 45 minute detentions to anyone who turns up to lessons without equipment. Even I think this is too harsh: I’m sure a lighter sanction would have worked. Nevertheless, what I saw was a transformation in expectations. Suddenly, every child had a pen, pencil and ruler. In particular, I remember a pupil who was dyslexic, dyspraxic and deaf who had never brought in a pen to any of my lessons. It would have been easy to just assume “a child like that” couldn’t be expected to manage to bring in a pen. When the detention policy was introduced, he transformed overnight. He brought a pen to every single lesson without fail. As did almost everyone else. I left the school and returned a few years later. The policy had been abandoned, and once again there were kids in the lower years who had never had a pen, but those who had been at the school during the time when the detention policy was in place, remained good at bringing in pens. There are those who believe that you can never get good behaviour through punishment alone. On this issue, I have seen that you can, and you can help form good habits that way too.

There are those who just don’t like rules. There are those who think you can have meaningful rules that you don’t actually enforce. There are those who think kids are basically helpless and hopeless. There are those who think any SEN means a child should be written off as incapable. There are those who cannot imagine that a child would choose to do wrong. There are those who think that enforcing rules is done only due to sadism and that children live in fear of their teachers. However, in the real world, everyone is better off if children bring their own pens in, and if that will only happen through enforcing a rule that says “bring in a pen”, then there’s no good reason not to.

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Do permanent exclusions cost £370k per excluded pupil?

May 13, 2022

Of course not. But this kind of nonsense is recycled endlessly by the anti-exclusion lobby. 

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately looking into the campaigning work of those groups trying to take away schools’ power to exclude. With very little challenge, the same bogus claims are made again and again by campaigners, academics and journalists. Recent posts dealt with a video by the Economist and a report by The Commission On Young Lives. These both included bizarre claims about the cost of exclusions from the same source.

The Commission On Young Lives:

Meanwhile, all of this is extremely expensive. An exclusion has been estimated to cost £370,000 per young person across their lifetime in education, benefits, healthcare, and criminal justice costs. Just think how some of this money could be so much better spent on introducing better systems, starting in the early years, that do much more to support children to learn, keep children in school and provide them with more specialist help and learning if they need it.

The Economist’s video:

Reducing exclusions can help tackle structural racism within education systems and it can save governments and taxpayers lots of money. In England, each cohort of permanently excluded pupils costs an extra £2.1bn over their lifetime in education, health, welfare and criminal justice costs.

Both of these give this 2017 report from the think tank IPPR as a source for this claim. This report includes the following:

Page 7 (page 9 in the pdf)

KEY FINDINGS
This report reveals the cost to the state of failing our most vulnerable children at school.

Every cohort of permanently excluded pupils will go on to cost the state an extra £2.1 billion in education, health, benefits and criminal justice costs.

Page 22-23 (page 24-25 in the pdf)

… there is also a strong economic imperative to address this sharp end of the social mobility challenge. IPPR research estimates that the cost of exclusion is around £370,000 per young person in lifetime education, benefits, healthcare and criminal justice costs.

This calculation reflects the costs of: education in the alternative provision sector; lost taxation from lower future earnings; associated benefits payments (excluding housing); higher likelihood of entry into the criminal justice system; higher likelihood of social security involvement; and increased average healthcare costs. Using the official figure of 6,685 children permanently excluded from school last year, this amounts to £2.1 billion for the cohort….

….CONCLUSIONS

  • Excluded pupils are likely to suffer long-term mental health problems, fail to achieve basic levels of literacy and numeracy, struggle to gain qualifications needed to access work, to be long-term unemployed, and to be repeatedly involved in crime.
  • As well as an incalculable personal cost, this has a huge societal cost. The cost to the state of failing each pupil is an estimated £370,000 in additional education, benefits, healthcare and criminal justice costs across a lifetime.
  • We calculate on official estimations of numbers of exclusion, that this is a £2.1 billion cost for every year’s cohort of permanently excluded young people. Yet, given that the full extent of exclusion greatly exceeds official figures, the true cost of exclusion is likely to be many multiples of this estimate.

And that’s it. No details of how the calculation was made. No accompanying technical report. They simply assumed that exclusions cause bad outcomes for excluded pupils, and made estimates for the extent and costs of those outcomes, which (apart from the total) they did not share. This should not be a surprise. The same report claimed that it is likely close to 100% of excluded children have mental health problems, a claim I discussed in detail in this post. That statistic included working out, and as I discussed in that post, it was pretty much all wrong. The statistics for the cost of exclusion have no working out (other than multiplying £370,000 by the number of excluded pupils to get £2.1 billion) but is based on an unproven assumption that not excluding will somehow magically cure the criminality, poor health and expected low incomes of the excluded. This has no credibility at all.

And, of course, the additional assumption has been made that not permanently excluding has no costs. This seems unreasonable when you look at stories, like this and this, where teachers who faced horrific ordeals, due to their schools failing to keep them safe from dangerous pupils, have been paid hundreds of thousands pounds in compensation. And that’s not considering the direct costs – in terms of learning, human suffering and staff retention – of not keeping kids safe and their lessons undisrupted.

A quick Google search reveals the £2.1 billion statistic has been used again and again without any suggestion it might not be reliable. The discourse about exclusions remains utterly blighted by misinformation that, almost always, goes unchallenged.

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