Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category


How not to have a debate about Ofsted

March 23, 2023

Last month, just before she was due to stand trial for assaulting a pupil, a Scottish school teacher took her own life. Press reports drew on the accounts of her family and colleagues. They informed us that Anne Scouler was a pillar of the community who was blamed for accidental contact when trying to confiscate a phone from a pupil.

This happened at a time when there are reports of an increasingly dangerous, environment in Scottish secondary schools. I have frequently discussed the breakdown of discipline in schools north of the border, where exclusions are rare and “trauma-informed” heads and dogmatic politicians claim bad behaviour is caused by “Adverse Childhood Experiences” rather than the ordinary flaws of children manifesting themselves in the absence of adult authority. I could have used this tragedy to expand on this point; I could have claimed that Mrs Scouler died as a result of a problem about which I have already expressed strong opinions.

I didn’t, and am not doing so here, because I have read the Samaritans’ media guidelines. As convenient as it is to believe that a suicide has one cause and that the cause is something one is already against, that is not actually likely to be the case. As the Samaritans say:

Speculation about the ‘trigger’ or cause of a suicide can oversimplify the issue and should be avoided. Suicide is extremely complex and most of the time there is no single event or factor that leads someone to take their own life.

This is the reality. Even if we can locate a stressful event in the lead-up to a suicide, we can never know whether it really was the cause because we can never know whether other factors were more important or if their death would have happened anyway. Even the closest friends and family of a suicide victim cannot be sure what was going on in the victim’s head. The Samaritans even warn against sharing the content of suicide notes, or other messages from a person who has died. A sympathetic story about a suicide may be compelling, but it can be harmful if it encourages people to identify with the deceased in a way that makes their fatal actions seem reasonable or even admirable.

Unfortunately, not everybody is aware of the Samaritans’ guidelines. And, if a news story upsets us, it can well impair our judgement. This can be the case even if, in other circumstances, we would know that it’s best not to speculate about, or sensationalise suicide. So perhaps it was inevitable that when headteacher Ruth Perry took her own life following an Ofsted inspection, many people treated it as a way to hammer home some point that they already believed about Ofsted inspections. I would encourage anybody who has tried to use this tragedy to promote a point of view they already believed in to have second thoughts about this now. It is easy to use a tragedy to manipulate emotions, and easier still to react to an upsetting news story without due reflection, but any reform or abolition of Ofsted requires thought and consideration, not a narrative about a suicide.

Removing all accountability from schools is not going to happen. If Ofsted was abolished tomorrow, it would soon be replaced with something else, which may be something worse. Moreover, the Ofsted report for Ms Perry’s school criticised its safeguarding work, claiming:

The arrangements for safeguarding are not effective. Leaders have a weak understanding of safeguarding requirements and procedures. They have not exercised sufficient leadership or oversight of this important work. As a result, records of safeguarding concerns and the tracking of subsequent actions are poor.

Scrutinising safeguarding is the one duty of Ofsted that is generally thought of as indispensable. Even during the suspension of routine inspections during COVID, an exception was made for safeguarding concerns. If the argument is that nobody should be checking up on whether a school’s safeguarding procedures are adequate, or that there should be no professional consequences if safeguarding is inadequate, then it is unlikely to get a sympathetic hearing from anybody in power, or from parents.

Of course, if the argument is simply that the Ofsted regime has negative effects and Ofsted should be reformed or abolished for that reason, then the specifics of this case are not really relevant to the argument. It is exploitative and manipulative to use this death as a reason to end all elements of inspection, even those that had no bearing on this case.

There is perhaps one concern that has come out of this inspection that might be worth further reflection. This is (at least) the third time in the last twelve months that public attention has been brought to inspectors finding problems with safeguarding in otherwise apparently effective schools. In December, MP Philip Hollobane complained that a school in his constituency had been targeted by a “rogue hit squad” when it was (like Ms Perry’s school) downgraded from outstanding. While there were several criticisms made of the school, one was that:

The school does not currently record and share all safeguarding information effectively. This means that the actions taken to safeguard pupils are not always clear.

A few months earlier, a school in Kent received attacks in the press about being too strict after an Ofsted report accepted at face value complaints from parents about pupils finding the enforcement of rules “oppressive”. Those sections of the report looked like the bad, old days of Ofsted when progressive inspectors condemned effective discipline because it made pupils too compliant. When criticism was made of this obviously ideologically motivated report, those defending it fell back once more on the issue of safeguarding. The report claimed:

The arrangements for safeguarding are not effective. Systems for recording safeguarding concerns about pupils, including leaders’ actions in response, are extremely poor. Often, actions are not recorded in detail. Records of safeguarding concerns are not kept confidential or stored securely. They are also maintained in different places. This means that leaders do not have a precise oversight of which pupils are vulnerable and at risk of harm.

That makes a total of three schools where the quality of education is good, but safeguarding procedure has been used as part of the reason to give a Requires Improvement or Inadequate grade and the grading has been shocking enough to end up discussed in the media. I would suggest that this is where any discussion and scrutiny should be focused. Are schools that are otherwise well-led struggling to satisfy Ofsted’s safeguarding expectations, particularly regarding record keeping? This doesn’t mean that Ofsted has got this wrong. Nevertheless, even if Ofsted are reaching sound judgements, it would suggest schools need more support in this area. Schools should know, long before inspectors arrive, whether their safeguarding records and procedures are adequate or not. It would be useful to schools if this issue became the focus of attention.

We do not need to further promote attempts to exploit a tragedy for the sake of an agenda of removing all accountability or settling scores over Ofsted’s past controversies. That said, I’m not going to take people to task for reacting unwisely to a tragedy. We almost all do that occasionally. But I am going to be cynical about anyone trying to use suicide to fuel an ongoing campaign to reform or abolish Ofsted. And I’ve already seen far too many people claiming that not wanting to exploit a suicide is “defending” Ofsted.


Top Posts of 2022

January 1, 2023

These were the most popular blogposts of 2022 (excluding those with scores inflated by dubious searches). They were not all written in 2022.

  1. A Tale of Three Schools
  2. “Just Give Them A Pen”
  3. What do children get permanently excluded for?
  4. Does being expelled or suspended turn you into a criminal?
  5. Seven Habits of Highly Defective Headteachers
  6. Year Zero
  7. Why the SEND system does not work
  8. Are conduct cards a form of child abuse?
  9. Definitions of Progressive and Traditionalist
  10. Why I’m leaving the NEU
  11. How should policy-makers approach improving the education system?
  12. Does it matter that there are a lot of young criminals?
  13. Did Glasgow cut youth crime by ending suspensions and expulsions? Part 1
  14. Book Review: Measuring Up by Daniel Koretz
  15. Why Do Some Ethnic Groups Have Higher Exclusion Rates? Part 2
  16. Did Glasgow cut youth crime by ending suspensions and expulsions? Part 2
  17. Book Review: ASBO Teacher by Samuel Elliott
  18. Do permanent exclusions cost £370k per excluded pupil?
  19. Good Year Heads
  20. How misleading was The Economist’s video that discussed school exclusions?

Happy new year.


Termly Exclusion Data

December 3, 2022

Some new data about exclusions has been published, and it reveals how misleading a previous data release was.

On November 24th, the DfE released an avalanche of updates. I counted over 40 items on the DfE news feed. Among them was a release of new information about exclusions and suspensions. This was data for the autumn term of the 2021-22 academic year. Previously, exclusion and suspension data had only been released annually.

Before the pandemic, exclusion and suspension figures were not broken down by terms at all. It was when the data for 2019-20 were released that, suddenly, termly statistics were included. The lockdown that affected part of the spring term, and all of the summer term, had seen exclusions fall dramatically. A warning was given that:

While permanent exclusions and suspensions were still possible throughout the academic year, school closures have had a substantial effect on the number of permanent exclusions and suspension [sic] and therefore caution should be taken when comparing figures across years.

Then the termly figures were given, and comparisons were made for the first time between autumn term 2018 and autumn term 2019.

Looking across terms, there were 3,200 permanent exclusions in Autumn term 2019/20. This is a 5% increase on the same period in 2018/19 (from 3,000). Across school types, permanent exclusions

  • increased by 20% in primary schools (77 permanent exclusions)
  • increased by 3% in secondary schools (77 permanent exclusions)
  • were stable in special schools

One of the most enduring features in reporting and commentary on exclusions is the focus on rises which are presented as remorseless; ongoing, and affecting every subgroup of the population. The story of 2019-20 should have been that permanent exclusions, which had already stopped rising the previous year, were incredibly low due to lockdown.

Instead, the publication of the autumn term figures enabled claims that exclusions were on an upward trend, temporarily interrupted by lockdown.

But were those reported rises in the autumn actually good evidence of an underlying upward trend in exclusions? The termly data released with the 2019-20 figures, covered the two year period from Autumn 2018 to Summer 2020, i.e. a period of six terms. Because lockdown affected the last two terms of this, the only term on term comparison that was not affected by lockdown was between Autumn 2018 and Autumn 2019. And so, for many, the story became what was quoted above: permanent exclusions are up 5% and exclusions from primary schools are up 20%. The narrative of rising exclusions continued, because for many these felt like dramatic increases. A more statistically literate and less sensationalist press would have realised that you cannot identify a trend from two data points. The wonderful BBC programme More or Less frequently focuses its statistical reporting on the question “Is that a big number?”. With only two data points, it was impossible to tell whether 5% and 20% are big numbers showing an important new development, or whether they are the kind of variation that will occur most years.

This is where the new release comes in. It included termly figures going back to the 2016-17 academic year and going forward to Autumn 2021. Did a 5 percent increase from Autumn 2018 to 2019 actually show a worrying upward trend? Not really, as can be seen from looking at the full data set. The highly publicised 5% increase is in red, and was actually the smallest change from autumn to autumn to be found in the figures.

How about that change in primary school exclusions? Surely, a 20% increase must be a big concern that should be investigated? Not when we have the context. Again, it was actually the smallest autumn to autumn change to be found in the data.

It’s quite an impressive feat for a government department to ensure a fall is reported as a rise. The DfE was reporting statistics that showed a massive fall in exclusions. However, by slicing up the data; highlighting unnecessary comparisons, and holding on to the data needed to interpret it for another 16 months they managed to create a narrative about increases in exclusions. The genuinely dramatic fall in exclusions was reported with comments like this in Schoolsweek:

Kiran Gill, founder of The Difference, said: “The figures for the autumn term reveal the real story on exclusions in this country – this is the data that we can rely on before pandemic lockdown measures hit. This is a social justice issue.

“Yet again the most vulnerable children are the most likely to fall out of education, such as those with special educational needs, social service interaction and living in increasing child poverty. 

“No one should rest assured that exclusions are declining, quite the opposite. Instead, children are being permanently excluded in greater numbers at younger ages. This should sound alarm bells.”

And in less honest publications the commentary became the headlines:

I expect anti-exclusion propagandists like Kiran Gill and the Guardian to come out with this rubbish. Is it too much to ask that the DfE doesn’t help them by cherrypicking misleading statistics for them?

More generally, the addition of termly data that hadn’t existed before, ignores the principle that government statistics should be primarily about releasing accurate factual information as to what has happened. If lockdown has reduced exclusions, then the most important thing for the figures to show is that lockdown has reduced exclusions. Analysis trying to establish that there is an underlying trend that lockdown has interrupted should be secondary to that. There’s enough consistency in the number of exclusions from year to year to suggest that the level of exclusions is not randomly distributed (although some of the figures you see reported for subgroups of exclusions are somewhat “noisy” and may show random variations). However, exclusions do seem to have changed enough over the years for us to be skeptical of the idea that changes are always driven by long term trends rather than specific events. Perhaps the rise after 2012-13 was caused by changes in the appeal system that indicated that the government was prepared to accept a rise in exclusion rates, or by OFSTED’s subsequent crackdown on “off-rolling” (removing pupils from a school’s roll without a permanent exclusion). Perhaps the stability in exclusions from 2016-2019 was a result of widely reported concern and campaigning about rising exclusions. If so (and I’m not claiming to know for sure about the effects of these factors) then the difference between changes in exclusions because of underlying trends, and changes because of specific events, is less clear than the reaction to lockdown changes suggests.

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).

With regard to the most recent changes in how the exclusion data are released, I’m skeptical about releasing termly statistics. Exclusions statistics are already cherrypicked to death, and this will create a few more opportunities to do this each year. But at least it has revealed just how badly we were misled by the DfE’s own statisticians the last time there was a change in how the figures were reported.


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.



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






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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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