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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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