A new report on exclusions

April 29, 2022

A charity whose founder has a history of opposing exclusions on the basis of dodgy evidence recently hosted The Commission on Young Lives in England which was chaired by a former Children’s Commissioner with a history of opposing exclusions on the basis of dodgy evidence. After interviewing a number of people opposed to exclusions, and collecting many unrepresentative anecdotes, the Commission has now published their report, and in a shocking development, the report opposes exclusions on the basis of dodgy evidence. It tells a story about how school exclusions are a result of children’s SEN, poor mental health and the racism of teachers. This, it is claimed, is a major cause of crime. It then suggests more “nurturing”; a less academic curriculum and restrictions on exclusions as an alternative without mentioning that all this was tried in the 00s.

Much of the report seems to have been cut and pasted from other reports from charities and think tanks without any attempt to check the reliability of the information. It is then padded out with anecdotes the Commission has collected directly or found in newspapers. Because of the cutting and pasting it is confusing and incoherent. Suspensions are referred to as “suspensions” for much of the report, which is the current terminology. But at other times they are referred to as “fixed term exclusions” or “temporary exclusions” which is what they used to be called. Worst of all, there are a number of occasions where claims are made about “exclusions” that either common sense, or a little research, tells us must actually be about suspensions.

A further issue with the cutting and pasting is that many of the statistics used are contradictory and repetitive, because they come from different sources and apparently no fact checking was ever done. So for instance, on page 7 we are told “exclusions peak in year 10 and 11” On page 13 we are told “children aged 12, 13 and 14 consistently have the highest numbers of exclusions”. On page 20 ” exclusions peak in Year 10″. On page 36: “our data shows that children aged 12, 13 and 14 consistently have the highest numbers of exclusions”.

Often statistics are just repeated again and again. We are told three times that 10% of schools are responsible for 88% (or nearly 90%) of exclusions with no attempt to explain why that should be surprising. We are told that Black Caribbean pupils are “being excluded at a rate of nearly three times their White British peers” (page 6). On page 14 you are “x 4 more likely to be excluded if you are Black Caribbean boy than a white boy” and “Black Caribbean boys are still 4 times more likely to be permanently excluded than White peers.” On page 15 “Black Caribbean pupils [are] being excluded at a rate of nearly three times their White British peers.” We are not told that this gap has narrowed in the latest figures. Black African pupils are not even mentioned, despite being the majority of black pupils in our schools. Claims about SEND are particularly misleading. No mention is made of the fact that children can be labelled SEND for their bad behaviour. Instead, autism is repeatedly mentioned, including an anecdote about a permanently excluded autistic pupil being convicted of murder. This is despite the Timpson report not finding autism to be a risk factor for permanent exclusions.

I doubt many people are going to read the Report itself, and if they do they will find a confusing mess. However, it’s worth going through the the press release as that’s what will feature in most news reports.

Anne Longfield’s Commission on Young Lives calls for an end to ‘exclusions culture’ as part of a new era of inclusive education to tackle the scourge of teenage violence and exploitation and help all children to succeed at school

  • Commission’s report into the school system calls for new measures to reduce the number of children falling out of school

I am not sure how a child “falls out” of school. Education is compulsory in the UK.

  • and tackle the culture of exclusion –

I wasn’t aware of the “culture of exclusion” because every school leader I speak to says they are under huge pressure not to exclude.

  • including a ban on primary school exclusions from 2026, greater incentives for secondary schools to reduce exclusions,

As it is, the average primary school only excludes once every 15 or 16 years, and invariably for the most urgent and serious cases, so that’s an odd policy. Secondary schools don’t seem to lack incentives to reduce exclusions as it is.

  • and for all schools to report annually on the number of children who have been excluded or moved from the school roll

The number of children excluded each year by each school is already published. It is done fairly subtly, with few details, and with a significant time delay. All of which makes sense given the need for confidentiality about the individual cases. I’m not aware of numbers leaving the school roll being published, although it can be found through a Freedom Of Information request. I can’t think of any possible purpose for this information about schools other than to make baseless accusations of off-rolling against any school that has the misfortune to have a high turnover of pupils.

  • Report shows how being out of school puts teenagers at increased risk of exploitation, serious violence and becoming involved in the criminal justice system

“Being out of school” is not usually a result of exclusions. An excluded child is meant to be back in education after 5 days. It’s fair enough to claim that being out of school is a risk, it is not reasonable to suggest that exclusions are a major reason children are out of school.

  • Commission on Young Lives recommends no school should receive a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ Ofsted rating without reaching a new inclusion measurement, and for school league tables to include a ‘pupil wellbeing’ measurement alongside exam scores

Ofsted inspections already look at these issues. A new measure will be something else to game.

  • Report calls for ‘Alternative Provision’ to be renamed ‘Specialist Provision’ and for ‘Pupil Referral Units’ to be scrapped
  • Commission proposes a five-year pilot to grow new inclusive schools, trialling new ‘cradle to career’ community schools in 55 education investment areas as part of the Government’s levelling-up strategy
  • Report shows how Black children are more likely to be excluded

As you can see from the quotations already discussed, the report talks about black Caribbean pupils being more likely to be excluded, not black pupils. In the latest figures (2019/20), the exclusion rate for black pupils is 0.07%. The exclusion rate for white British pupils is 0.07%. If you calculate the next decimal place, it’s lower for black children. There used to be a discrepancy, but after years of narrowing it has finally gone, although getting anti-exclusion campaigners to admit this is virtually impossible.

  • and can face ‘adultification’ at school,

This seems to be a big thing at the moment having popped up in the Serious Case Review for Child Q. Researchers in the US claimed black girls are likely to be treated as if they are older than they are. While this is an interesting idea, it seems to have been rapidly accepted as a universal truth, likely to apply to black pupils of both sexes in the UK. I know of no empirical evidence to support this.

  • and proposes making race-equality training a core part of teacher training

Anyone who thinks this will do any good should read this blogpost about some of the nonsense brought into schools in the name of training teachers to be anti-racist. It’s not that there is no racism in schools; it’s that the issues are complex and can be entirely different in one school than another. Generic training about racism is unlikely to do any good for anyone other than those who sell training about racism to schools. And, looking at teachers’ worst experiences of this training, it might even be harmful and divisive.

  • and reforming the school curriculum to make it more inclusive

Another idea already being aggressively promoted to schools. Pretty much everything suggested about the curriculum in the report involves ideas that are already being discussed (often over many decades) with no evidence that they will actually work.

Anne Longfield, Chair of the Commission on Young Lives, is today publishing the Commission’s third thematic report, All Together Now: Inclusion not exclusion – supporting all young people to succeed in school’.The report looks at how thousands of vulnerable children are falling through gaps in the education system, putting them at risk not only of low attainment but also serious violence, county lines, criminal exploitation, grooming and harm.

Even after reading the report, I don’t really know what counts as a gap. Schooling is compulsory in the UK, a lot of effort is made to keep children in school.

 It calls for a new era of incentivising all schools to become more inclusive and makes a series of recommendations for how schools can be supported to divert vulnerable teenagers away from crime and exploitation and enable them to thrive.

The report highlights the disadvantages and dangers that falling out of school can have on some young people and highlights the scale of the challenge facing the education system, including:

  • The high number of children in England excluded from school. (The Commission met with one mother whose five-year-old was excluded 17 times in a year).

As mentioned earlier, the report is very inconsistent in how it describes suspensions. I’m guessing that this means suspensions. By using the word “excluded” though, it obscures the strong possibility that if a child (of any age) is being suspended 17 times, the school is probably trying to avoid excluding.

  • Thousands of children who are persistently absent from school.
  • Alternative Provision that is failing to provide many children with a good education or to keep them safe.
  • A SEND system that is not meeting the needs of many vulnerable children.
  • A school inspections system that does not value inclusion and can offer perverse incentives for some schools to remove children from their school roll.
  • The disproportionate number of Black children who are not attending school or are excluded from school.

There’s that claim again. I bet not one media outlet covering this report as a news story mentions that in reality black pupils are no more likely to be excluded than white British pupils.

The Commission’s report looks at how thousands of children are leaving school without good qualifications, but also at the culture of exclusions that has grown in recent years.

  • The number of children excluded from school rose by 5% in the autumn of 2019 compared to the same period the previous year

This one is on the DfE. For reasons that have never been explained, when exclusions fell due to COVID they released termly figures for the 2018/19 and 2019/20 academic year and compared the autumn figures between the two years. I wouldn’t complain if they had released termly figures from the previous years, but without that all we have are comparisons made between two isolated data points being used to maintain the narrative of rising exclusions in a situation where there was a massive fall in exclusions.

  • Permanent exclusion figures have seen a gradual rise from 5,082 in 2010/11 to 7,894 in 2018/19, before Covid.

It actually went below 5000 in 2012/13 and 2013/14. and was pretty stable in the two academic years before the pandemic.

  • Even for the Covid-affected year of 2019/20, 5,057 children in England were permanently excluded.

This is out of 8 million children. It’s not high.

  • Across a 10-year span, from 2010-2020, children aged 12, 13 and 14 consistently have the highest numbers of exclusions. These are often the children most at risk of becoming involved with the criminal justice system.

Recent research by the DfE and MoJ has highlighted how one in five (22%) of children that had ever been permanently excluded were also cautioned or sentenced for a serious violence offence.

While this is true, this misses what that report said about the timing of the exclusion and the offence. A third of those permanent exclusions were after that serious violent offense. And an even larger proportion were permanently excluded over a year before the offence (and in more than two thirds of those cases the exclusion was 2 years before the offense.) This was made clear in the MoJ/DfE report being cited, and illustrated with this diagram:

The Commission on Young Lives is extremely selective in how it quotes from that report. The various reasons the report gave for not inferring a causal relationship between suspensions/exclusions and offending do not seem to have been heeded.

59% of children that had ever been permanently excluded were also cautioned or sentenced for an offence. The Commission has also taken evidence from school leaders and youth workers about some of the ruthless methods criminal gangs are using to drive a wedge between vulnerable children and schools, such as encouraging them to become permanently excluded for taking drugs or weapons to school, or for violent behaviour.

This is a recurring anecdotal claim, but it does actually require criminal gangs to positively want to draw the attention of the police and child services to the child they are exploiting, which is an implausible strategy for criminals. I’d be fascinated to know if there is any strong evidence it has ever happened.

The report also highlights the poor outcomes for children who are moved into Alternative Provision. Just 4% of pupils in AP passed English and Maths at GCSE, compared to 64% in mainstream.

It’s almost as if children in AP aren’t academic high achievers. As ever, correlation is not causation.

‘All Together Now’ makes recommendations to challenge the culture of exclusion and encourage a more inclusive education system, holding schools accountable for excluding or moving children off the school role, but also providing them with the support and resource they need to keep children in school. While many schools have inclusion and nurture at the heart of their school ethos, many school leaders feel the system discourages them from inclusivity and nurture. The report calls for a trauma-responsive, inclusive, community-led continuous education system that provides support to all children, from cradle to career and ensures every child receives the good education.

Its proposals include:…

I’m not going to quote these in full. The general gist is, as ever, fewer exclusions and more bureaucracy. If you want more advisors and consultants telling teachers what to do, this is how you should do it. As you can imagine, non-anecdotal evidence that any of the suggestions are effective is not provided. No discussion is made of the victims of the behaviour that leads to exclusion. It the world of anti-exclusion campaigners children’s behaviour is something that just happens to them because their schools were not caring enough. If anyone has ever published a report endorsing a school’s right to exclude, I haven’t seen it.

Correction 29/4/2022: An earlier version of this post mistakenly confused The Commission for Young Lives in England with The Times Education Commission. Apologies for any inaccuracies in that version.


  1. […] few days ago I shared this post about the Commission on Young Lives report on […]

  2. […] 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 […]

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