In this blog, CYPMHC members, Chance UK, share their reflections on the latest exclusions and suspensions data and their experiences of working with children and young people at risk of exclusion from school.
What does the data on exclusions and suspensions tell us?
The latest permanent exclusions and suspensions data from schools in England, published at the end of last year, shows a rise in the rates of children being permanently excluded or suspended from school, with exclusions quickly catching up with, and suspensions surpassing, pre-pandemic levels. The overall numbers are concerning, and the sharp rise back to pre-pandemic levels is something that needs to be addressed. What is even more concerning, though, is the evidence that some groups of children are disproportionately, and overwhelmingly, bearing the brunt of this rise.
Disproportionately in the use of exclusions
We know that children excluded and suspended from school are disproportionately those identified as having special education needs (SEN), and that, for these children, the main struggle identified has to do with their mental health. These two issues, poor mental health and higher risk of exclusions and suspensions, go hand in hand. In the same week, the NHS released their latest data on children and young people in England, which showed that 1 in 5 have a ‘probable mental disorder’, and that rates are increasing in children aged 8-16. When we think of what this mental health crisis can do to rates of exclusions and suspensions in the next few years, the prospects are terrifying.
Moreover, this exclusion data also mirrors social inequality. Some groups of children are excluded and suspended from schools at much higher rates. This includes those who are eligible for free school meals, as well as children from Gypsy/Roma, Traveller of Irish Heritage, White and Black Caribbean, and Black Caribbean ethnic groups. This means that some children are facing compounding barriers, and the data on exclusions and suspensions shows that education, which is meant to be the great equaliser, is failing to act as such.
The reasons behind exclusions and suspensions
When we look at the reasons for exclusions and suspensions, we see that persistent disruptive behaviour or physical assault against another pupil or an adult rank high. If we are committed to reducing the number of such incidents, we must focus on the factors that have led up to those moments and acknowledge the structural inequalities that may be at play.
We know that, for some children whose needs are not being adequately met, their externalised behaviour may be such that it puts them at risk of exclusion. We should therefore question if the support they require is available when they need it, appropriate for their individual needs and effective. It also highlights the fact that schools and local services might not have resources available to them to meet the needs of these children, particularly at a time of growing mental health needs.
The stories behind the data
I see the stories behind this data every day. Maria*’s son, Jayden*, was supported by us at Chance UK. Aged five, Jayden was suspended seventeen times in nine months from his primary school and was moved between six schools in nine years. Early on, Maria raised significant concerns for Jayden’s mental health and probable special educational needs but had to fight to seek a diagnosis (he was eventually diagnosed with ADHD, ODD and emotional and behavioural disorder) and to receive CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) support. It is well documented that CAMHS are gravely underfunded and overstretched, with inconsistent provision based on location and reports of patchy quality in service. This is exacerbated by the increasing demand for their services. The impact this has on children is significant. No five-year-old who is continuously excluded from school should have to have their parent fight for mental health support for them, or the appropriate assessments for their needs.
The support given to her by Chance UK meant Maria saw her son open up and build his social skills through a positive relationship with his mentor. However, it should not be left to parents alone to fight for their child, and no child should be continuously moved from school to school because their needs are not able to be met. Children, parents and schools all need well-funded, high-quality, accessible support available early if we want to see less school exclusions and suspensions. If not, we risk waiting until their needs become more complex and their behaviour becomes increasingly challenging, at great detriment to the child.
What needs to change?
This is why Chance UK supports the CYPMHC’s newly launched three-year strategy’s key priorities: a mentally healthy generation, early intervention for all and strengthened specialist services. We also want children with SEN or suspected SEN to have timely, accurate identification of needs and where appropriate, diagnosis, so that their needs are understood, and they can be fully included in education. Furthermore, the existing structural inequalities which mean that some groups of children are affected disproportionately by exclusion, must be addressed at a national level.
The Government must prioritise children’s mental health. Exclusion data highlights the children who are most in need of help; we must centre them as unique individuals and ensure that early support is in place for them when they require it. Anything short of that fails thousands of children who need us to act now.
*Please note, names have been changed to protect people’s privacy.
3) You can read Maria’s story here: https://www.chanceuk.com/news/marias-story/
4) CYPMHC Strategy 2024-2027 https://cypmhc.org.uk/publications/cypmhc-strategy-2024-to-2027/
Who are Chance UK?
If children are going through a difficult time, Chance UK is there to offer specialist support – building resilience, self-esteem and hope; preventing a lifetime of struggle. You don’t have to have a diagnosis and we won’t make you wait. We quickly match every child with an experienced youth worker to provide the support needed at home, at school and within communities.
We are currently researching into the long-term consequences of primary school exclusions of children. We look forward to releasing our publication of our findings in the Spring 2024.
If you know of a child who may benefit from our support, please make a referral via our website: https://www.chanceuk.com/make-a-referral/