The Town Hall took a stand this week against exclusionary practices in schools, following a motion brought by the council’s children and families boss committing it to working directly with local schools to provide long-term pathways away from exclusions.
Cllr Kaya Comer-Schwartz’s motion has the council pledging to promote trauma-informed, human and respectful behaviour management in education policy, as well as to work to outlaw unofficial exclusions, or off-rolling, while slamming zero-tolerance approaches as “inhumane… ignoring the key idea that there are contributing factors to aspects of behaviour”.
Speaking in support of the motion, Cllr Vivien Cutler said: “There has long been a punitive culture associated with school education in the UK. Corporal punishment’s place was enshrined in the curriculum of the newly-established public school system in 1870. Islington was ahead of the game even then, when the Finsbury member of the school board alone opposed it.
“Extraordinarily it was only finally banned in state schools in England as recently as 1986. Although corporal punishment is no longer socially acceptable, the emotional impact of exclusion and in-school isolation has to an extent replaced it.
“In the end it costs much more in societal and budgetary terms to exclude children at the first sign of problems. Everyone here has their part to play in reducing exclusions, and we need to work together to change the culture.”
Only one per cent of excluded children gain five good GCSEs, with exclusions disproportionately Black and minority ethnic groups; pupil referral units disproportionately educate Black pupils by a factor of four.
Councillors also pointing to statistics showing that over one in four young people who have been excluded are not in employment, education and training for between one and two years before the age of 19, compared to one in ten for those who have not been excluded.
The meeting also heard criticisms of curriculums being offered which are “arid and non-diverse”, serving to alienate young people, with greater prominence given to league tables by the system pushing school leaders into gaming exam entries and off-rolling those pupils whose attendance is unlikely to achieve good exam results, with zero-tolerance approaches for minor breaches of rules.
The motion was welcomed by Green opposition councillor Caroline Russell who spoke in support of it, pointing to “very worrying” levels of exclusions at at local academy Highbury Grove.
The Town Hall is now working to analyse the correlation between school exclusions and Black, Asian and minority ethnic children, with Cllr Comer-Schwartz calling on schools to take into consideration the “significant strain” on young people’s mental health posed by the months this year in which the majority of the borough’s young people were out of school.
Cllr Andy Hull said: “The coronavirus pandemic has exposed inequalities at the heart of our society. The effect of school exclsuions, whcih disproportionately impacts Black children, has gone unchallenged for too long, and it is time we acted on it. The impact they have on our society is underestimated and often misunderstood.
“In the last five years there has been a 60 per cent increase in the number of pupils permanently excluded across the UK. At its core, this is a question of the sort of society we want to live in. Too many young people, including right here in Islington ,are not even getting close to fulfilling their full potential because they are being excluded unnecessarily from school.”
Comer-Schwartz added: “I am proud to deepen our commitment to reducing the level of school exclusions in our borough, which are detrimental to young people, their families, the school and wider society. Exclsuions should only ever be used as a last resort if all else fails. While I understand that many people have challenging behavioural issues, and that puts a strain on teachers, I believe we have a duty to our children to understand the reasons which underlie challenging behaviour.
“Here in Islington we have worked hard to tackle the root causes of school exclusion and as a result reduce the amount of exclusions in the borough as a whole. Last year fixed period exclusions from Islington secondary schools were reduced by 40 per cent and in primary schools by 25 per cent. Permanent exclusions from secondary schools were also reduced by 10 per cent.
“Whilst we should be proud of the progress we have made, we need to go further, given we know that school exclusions too often lead to young people being exploited through criminal activity and disproportionately affect Black people.”