An insight into the victims of school exclusions and it's impact on the individual and society.
Theresa May recently made a statement claiming she is willing to ‘shine a light on disparities between racial groups in the UK’ . She spoke about inequality in society after a government audit released highlighted disparities between ethnic groups particularly in health, education, job prospects, housing and so on. I couldn’t help but think to myself …Did this audit really tell us something we didn’t know already? And why is this an issue for Theresa May now, when it wasn’t before?
Anyway, Rant over - Kind of.
I’ll give credit where it’s due and credit Mrs. May for at least making it a topic of conversation. It was the disparities in education between ethnic groups that grabbed my attention and this should be no surprise to those who know me well. The documentation of racial disparities lead me to further research into the effects of this on our education system. I wanted to focus specifically on the high exclusion rates of particular groups in schools and how this is linked to the issues within society.
Who is being excluded from our schools? (My observations)
After being excluded in Secondary school, I never viewed myself as a victim of something common to a particular group of young people. I saw my exclusion as my problem exclusively. This is partly due to the fact that my dad has always told me to take responsibility for my actions while the teachers -more often than not- blamed my struggles on me too.
It was only until I began working in schools that I noticed the treatment of certain groups of children. Firstly, I noticed it was often the children of a particular race who were being labelled as “difficult” or with “behavior problems”. These pupils, similar to myself at school, were often isolated from the class or placed with a 1:1, who was often an inexperienced TA.
I then noticed that the pupils on the brink of exclusion were predominately males. As a pupil, I cannot recall too many girls being permanently excluded from school, in both primary and secondary. Howbeit, in one year, I remember 4 or 5 boys in my year group being excluded. This was also the case when I worked in schools. Very rarely did I come across girls who had been excluded from school, even if they were on the brink of it.
My final observation was that almost all of these young people were children who were struggling to engage in lessons and were performing below expectations. A number of these children had educational health care plans [once known as statements] and were diagnosed with a Special Educational Need, the most common diagnosis being Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Who is being excluded from our schools? (What the statistics show)
I’m aware that my observations cannot be used to generalise what I believe is the problem. Therefore I appreciate the recent national research that revealed these statistics.
- Everyday, 35 of the most disadvantaged children are permanently excluded from schools.
- Poor children are 4x more likely to be excluded than their wealthier peers.
- Excluded children are twice as likely to be in the care of the state
- Excluded pupils are seven times more likely to suffer recognised mental health problems.
- Black boys are 3 x more likely to be excluded than their white counterparts
- 77% of children who are in schools for excluded children have recognised special educational needs or disability.
- For every girl that is permanently excluded from school, there are 3 more boys in exactly the same position.
These statistics basically revealed to me that as a Black African boy, who comes from a poor family background in a poor neighborhood, my exclusion from school was almost inevitable. However, I found it hard to see how SEN and Mental Health could play a part in my 2 school exclusions. I had never been officially diagnosed with a special educational or mental health need.
My current experience as a teacher has now helped me realise that there are more special educational needs that have been identified and recognised in pupils since I was in school. Consequently this has lead to more diagnoses of Special Educational Needs.
Furthermore, there was little emphasis on the mental health of children 20 years ago in comparison to now, where awareness for mental health has grown massively. We even have schools for children with Social Emotional Mental Health. I teach in one! These children once upon a time would have been known as the ‘naughty kids” or better yet EBD kids (Emotional Behavior Difficulties)
Researchers have suggested that the proportion of excluded children with mental health issues is likely to be 100 percent! If this is true, this could very well be a valid factor in my own exclusion from school. As a person who has struggled with mental health as a teenager and more recently as a young adult, it’s possible that there may have been a mental health need that had not been identified or treated. Very few of my teachers, if any, would have been trained to identify a mental health need. Furthermore, my parents would not have accepted this label on their child because in their [West African] culture, this is a taboo.
What is the impact of school exclusions on the individual and society?
My first exclusion in primary school was difficult for my parents but it wasn’t completely detrimental. Although my parents were disappointed, there was a sense of relief that I was at least being removed from a toxic environment.
My parents had many run-ins with the school over various things i.e the strategic separation of all the black boys in my year group and the constant blame I would get for conflicts between myself and other students. Furthermore, my dad in particular had a negative experience interacting with my teachers and senior members of school. According to my parents, the treatment we were succumbed to at the school would have led to them removing me from the school eventually anyway.
My second exclusion from school, however, was a little hard to stomach for my parents and a lot more damaging for myself. During my first few years of secondary school, things started to become all too familiar to my primary school experience. I struggled with my studies and I was often being kicked out of class. Eventually, I was excluded in the year of my GCSE’s and only managed to obtain 4 A-C’s.
This was particularly hard for my parents because they were very much involved in my education. To some degree they were even over the top. My dad was more excited for parents evening than Christmas. Each year, the same things would come up “Emmanuel has lots of potential, but he is not fulfilling it. He isn’t engaging. His behavior is letting him down”. My dad took all the necessary steps [in his eyes] to ensure I did well in school, yet nothing seemed to prevent the eventual outcome.
This had a huge effect on my family because in Nigerian culture, a failing or troublesome child is a reflection of the parenting. Because of this, the pressure exerted on me [particularly as the oldest] became overwhelming.
The weight of disappointment from my family on my shoulders became a burden for me even in college. I was demotivated, knowing I had to spend a year re-sitting GCSE’S. This also meant I was now a year behind everyone I left school with. I was only able to move on from the impact of my school exclusion the day I graduated from University. The negative impact shifted at that point because I had proved to myself that I could go on to achieve something.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the outcome for everyone that had been excluded from my school. Those that did not continue in education became involved criminal activities and quickly found themselves in precarious situations. Some of these young men had children and before their child was able to say “dada”, they were already in prison.
Growing up in the same neighbourhood from when I was a teenager, I’ve witnessed a vicious cycle, where the children of these men are displaying the potential to end up like their parents. In some cases their situations were almost exactly the same as their fathers or older brothers.
It was these observations that lead me to believe there is a direct link between school exclusion and the issues within our society. Poverty and inequality have made it difficult [not impossible] for particular ethnic groups of people to succeed in society. Theresa May has helped confirm this and I’m glad she spoke up. If there are disparities between ethnic groups in education, health and housing, it will inevitably impact the access children have to education. Yes the government have implemented ideas such as “Free school meals” to help children from poor families but what have the Government done to create more job opportunities for vulnerable families? What have they done to prevent the unfair treatment of black males through stop and searches? How is the rise in mental health amongst particular groups being tackled? All of these questions need an answer, because they all have an impact on the achievement and success of our young people.
As a teacher of children with social emotional and mental health difficulties, I am now more aware of the factors that can be caused to lead to this. The common factors in cases of school exclusions are unsafe family environments, poverty and poor mental health of key family members. These can all lead to a mental health need that many teachers are not trained to identify or deal with. As a result, observations of behavior are misinterpreted or misunderstood. In order to reduce the exclusion rates of young people teachers should be adequately trained on mental health.
Similarly, children with special educational needs make up a large number of children in alternative provision and this could be down to a lack of suitable provision for them in their schools.
However, schools can no longer be held solely responsible for failing our vulnerable young people. Gender discrimination, Race discrimination, Poverty, Special Educational Needs and Poor Mental Health are themes are prevalent in our society today and they are also key factors to the high exclusion rates of vulnerable groups. Until society can adequately deal with the dysfunctional and unequal systems that we live in, we will not see the desired outcomes in education. It’s a good thing Theresa May has recently identified these issues. Let’s hope she isn’t all talk. In the meantime, lets keep up the good fight and help cater for the needs of all our children.