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.


One comment

  1. […] Lockdown was not an interruption to a trend. It was a policy decision that, like other policy decisions, affected exclusions. It might have been more dramatic and more easily identified, but that’s a difference in degree, not a difference in kind. Researchers are, of course, free to look for longer term trends and patterns, but the belief that these, rather than how the figures respond to specific events, are what matters, is only an opinion. By slicing up the data in a new way for the convenience of those hoping to find longer term trends, the DfE statisticians were privileging the opinion that there was an an underlying trend, rather than reporting the facts as they had in previous years. That’s not to say the released information should have been hidden; I would assume researchers could have acquired it by making a Freedom of Information request. But by releasing it in the way they did, the DfE encouraged reports of a problem of rising exclusions at a time when exclusions were low and falling. This may also have coloured the perspective of many commentators who incorrectly predicted a dramatic rise in exclusions in 2020-21 (as discussed here). […]

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