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The truth about exclusions and suspensions

January 3, 2022

I’ve mentioned before that we are frequently told that exclusions from schools are common, rising and racist. I find that evidence is often ignored, or carefully selected to fit, by those who make such claims.

The most recent exclusion figures we have are for the academic year 2019-2020 released in July 2021. These statistics are notable for several reasons.

Firstly, there is a change in terminology. “Fixed Term Exclusions” where a student is removed from school temporarily (usually for a day or two) are now called “Suspensions”. One of the most common tricks used to make permanent exclusions seem common is to cite figures for fixed term exclusions and refer to them only as “exclusions” in articles that are mainly about permanent exclusions. There would have been even greater clarity if “permanent exclusions” had been renamed “expulsions”  (this was proposed, but the DfE gave in to the anti-exclusions lobby). Nevertheless, the change ensures that anyone referring to suspensions as just “exclusions”, when looking at the figures, is likely to be out of date (or perhaps even dishonest).

Secondly, this was the first school year affected by Covid. The lockdown that year reduced permanent exclusions and suspensions dramatically from previous years. Permanent exclusions fell from 7894 to 5057. Although the DfE did its best to support the anti-exclusion lobby by releasing termly figures for that year and the previous year (and suspiciously for no other years) you can’t get round the fact that this is not an increase. When permanent exclusions fell slightly in the 2018/19 academic year it was easily hidden by talking about Fixed Term Exclusions instead, or comparing with two or more years earlier rather than just the previous year. In 2019/20 however, it doesn’t matter how you slice it, permanent exclusions and suspensions are lower than they’ve been in years. It also means that permanent exclusions and suspensions fell dramatically for almost every subgroup in the data. So another classic trick of slicing up the data (by gender, race, sector i.e. primary or secondary, age, region or SEND) and only reporting on statistics showing a rise, is not readily available.

Thirdly, this is the first year where black pupils had a lower rate of permanent exclusions than white British pupils. It’s only a marginal difference (the DfE website gives them both as 0.07%, i.e. 7 pupils in every 10 000) but if you calculate it to another decimal place you find black pupils are less likely to be excluded than white British pupils. Black pupils had been less likely to be suspended than white British pupils for a few years now. For a very long time, ethnic minority pupils in general have been less likely to be excluded or suspended than white British pupils. But those two facts had been ignored by commentary that focused only on the rate of permanent exclusions for black pupils while ignoring other data. Now, that trick is not available.

Combined together these three developments should make it impossible now for anyone to claim that “exclusions” are rising; that permanent exclusions are common, or that black pupils are disproportionately excluded. The exception to this is, of course, if one lies or shares information from somebody who is lying.

It is worth noting that, since those figures came out you may have seen some of the following claims:

(David Collins is a Sunday Times journalist.)

(Agenda is a charity, and after a FOI request I checked that the claim is no more true for black girls than for black pupils in general)

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From The Guardian

From the BBC.

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From activist Lee Jasper.

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From The Guardian website although it may be a story from The Observer.

(I doubt this is accurate about Katharine Birbalsingh.)

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From Professor Kalwant Bhopal in the Mirror.

(City Of London is a NGO).

(Beyond Autism is a charity)

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From The Telegraph.

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From The Express. (There are over 20000 schools in England, so the average number of permanent exclusions a year in most schools is actually less than a tenth of what is claimed in the first sentence.)

(Bright Futures is a charity.)

(The Council for Disabled Children (CDC) is “the umbrella body for the disabled children’s sector in England”)

I could keep going with this. The BBC and Guardian claims were particularly widely shared, often by people and organisations with power in education. My conclusion is that where there is an absence of data that can be cherrypicked to mislead, we can expect to be bombarded with outright falsehoods instead.

 

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