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“They Go The Extra Mile”

Reducing inequality in school exclusions

Last year, I published “They Never Give Up on You” – the report of the first Inquiry undertaken by my office – into school exclusions.

One of our key findings concerned the inequalities present in the children who are excluded from school – either permanently or for a fixed period of time.

Simply put, children with special educational needs (SEN), children from low income families, boys, and children from some ethnic groups are much more likely to be excluded. When a child has two or more of these characteristics, the differences in exclusions rates can be enormous. As an illustration, consider two children – Jack and Jill. They are in the same class at secondary school. Jack is Black Caribbean, has moderate SEN and is eligible for free school meals. Jill is white, has no special needs and is from a more affluent family.

Jack is 168 times more likely than Jill to be permanently excluded from school. The reasons for this are complicated, and are not limited to what goes on in school. As well as being more likely to be excluded, Jack is also more likely to have a difficult life in many different regards. He is more likely to be unemployed later in life, live in poor accommodation and be in trouble with the police. This is an issue for society as a whole, and school exclusions represent one signifier of a wider problem. Schools do not act in isolation, and cannot be expected unilaterally to level the playing field in terms of life outcomes for children in disadvantaged groups.

However, it is uncontestably the case that some schools do a fantastic job at narrowing the exclusions, and attainment, gap between different groups of pupils. This report looks at what makes these schools so effective, and what can be done to share what they do more widely. We have found that the most important single thing a school can do is to realise that some children need more support than others in school, and to meet this need. The best schools do this instinctively because they realise that this is core to their job, rather than an “optional extra”. They also do not view it as giving “special treatment” to “difficult” children. As one head teacher told us, “We don’t do this because we are nice people – although we are. We do it because kids who feel part of the school learn better”. Crucially, they are willing to provide all support necessary, rather than expecting the child to do all of the changing. If only one part of this report leads to lasting change in the education system, I hope it is this one.

This report makes recommendations regarding the training and development of the teaching workforce, and specifically, how it could be improved to help teachers and schools better address the challenges presented by a diverse pupil population with many different needs. At present, it is possible to qualify as a teacher in England without ever receiving training in child development, SEN, or cultural differences.

Equally, there is more that could be done to encourage the sharing of good practice, and of training and development materials and resources, between schools.

This report makes recommendations to schools, the Department for Education (DfE), to the Teaching Agency and Ofsted who are required by law to respond.