MPs call for action to break link between knife crime and exclusions

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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A 70 per cent rise in permanent exclusions since 2012 has placed huge pressure on the system of alternative provision, leaving many students receiving a part-time education and vulnerable to criminal exploitation.

“The number of children being excluded from school and locked out of opportunities is a travesty. Often these children have literally nowhere to go. They are easy pickings for criminal gangs looking to exploit vulnerable children.”
Sarah Jones MP, chair of the APPG on Knife Crime

A 70 per cent rise in permanent exclusions since 2012 has placed huge pressure on the system of alternative provision, leaving many students receiving a part-time education and vulnerable to criminal exploitation.

An inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime (APPG) says that if we are to break the link between school exclusion and knife crime local authorities must get more support and mainstream schools must be made more accountable for the students they exclude.

In 2017/18 in England there were 7,900 permanent exclusions – a 70 per cent increase since 2012/13 (with those on free school meals four times more likely and those with SEND five times more likely to be excluded). The APPG’s report says that some schools are excluding pupils simply because they have not got the resources necessary to manage their behaviour.

However, it also says that schools are being “too hasty” too exclude because of the pressure and “perverse incentives” of the “flawed school rankings system”.

The report states: “Young people told us that some schools were not very good at supporting young people on the cusp of trouble. Some commented on how the growth in zero tolerance behaviour policies meant that it seemed that schools increasingly relied on both fixed term or even permanent exclusions to respond to what seemed to be relatively minor behaviour.”

There is also pressure from Ofsted, the report finds, with schools telling MPs that work to improve attendance and reduce exclusions is often ignored by inspectors, who focus solely on academic outcomes.

One headteacher told the MPs: “We were ‘Ofsteded’ and despite phenomenal improvement on attendance and exclusions it got less than one line in the report. The only thing they were interested in was the maths, science and English.”

It is not just schools that are under pressure. The report finds that local authorities are struggling, too. Despite the increase in exclusions, research by the APPG reveals that a third of local authorities in England do not have enough space in their alternative provision for these students.

A Freedom of Information request by the APPG revealed that many areas were under significant pressure when it comes to places, with 47 of the 80 local authorities who responded having “no available spaces”. As a result, some excluded students receive limited one-to-one tutoring at home or attend twilight sessions for one or two hours after the normal school day. The education they receive is also very narrow, with English and maths often the sole focus, the APPG warns.

It is this lack of classroom, supervised time, the APPG says, that is increasing the risk of criminal exploitation and involvement in violence for vulnerable young people.

One teenager told the MPs: “Since they kicked me out I’ve got time on my hands to do more crime, commit more crime ... in Croydon with my friends who have also been kicked out who are also doing wrong things, who are also selling drugs, who are also carrying knives.”

The APPG report points out that young people who are excluded from school are entitled to a full-time education by law from the sixth day they are excluded.

Among the APPG’s recommendations, the MPs would like all education providers to given the “funding and backing they need” to support vulnerable children, this includes ensuring local authorities have the resources and support they need to offer all excluded children a full-time education.

MPs also want school rankings to be reformed in order to take account the outcomes of all pupils, including those who are excluded.

Elsewhere, they say schools should be supported to focus on early intervention and prevention, with more staff being trained to “understand vulnerability and trauma”.

Chair of the APPG, Sarah Jones MP, said: “Excluding children must be a last resort. But we hear all too often of schools stretched too thin to provide the wraparound support that struggling children need. Cash-strapped councils can’t manage the increasing number of excluded children in need of alternative education.

“Our fight against this knife crime epidemic must start from the principle that no child is left behind. Schools and local authorities must be supported by government to do this.”

The APPG’s work is being supported by children’s charity Barnardo’s and youth charity Redthread. Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said: “Children excluded from school are often among the most vulnerable in our society. At Barnardo’s we see every day how adverse childhood experiences – from domestic abuse to parental mental health problems – can lead to challenging behaviour and ultimately expulsion.

“As a former maths teacher, I know how hard it can be to meet these children’s needs but we must work together to help keep more children in the classroom.

“We know that exclusion too often leads to a ‘poverty of hope’ – reducing a child’s chance of gaining good qualifications and entering the workplace. With pupil referral units regarded as a recruiting ground for criminal gangs, it’s no surprise children taught there are vulnerable to involvement in drugs and violent crime.

“As a society, it’s time we took action. Exclusions must be a last resort, and alternative education provision must be full-time, high-quality, and properly resourced. Above all it’s time to change the culture so children can’t just be excluded – unseen and unheard.”

Responding to the report, Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said that schools must not be made a “scapegoat” for knife crime.

She continued: “The problems which must be resolved are the insufficiency in funding for schools and colleges and for wider support services, which makes it difficult to provide early intervention for pupils with challenging behaviour, and the need to ensure there is enough high-quality alternative provision in every area.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, added: “Schools already work in partnership with the police and local authorities to prevent pupils from coming to harm and to ensure they don’t cause harm to others. The problem for all these agencies is that they are all under-resourced and over-stretched.

“The Safer Schools Partnerships of the early 2000s have withered on the vine since the start of austerity. There are 7,000 fewer neighbourhood police officers than there were in 2010. School budgets are at breaking point, with a shortfall in funding of £5.4 billion over the past three years affecting nine out of 10 schools in England.

“Further legal obligations to work together will not solve the problem. The biggest barrier to keeping young people safe is a lack of funding for essential public services.”


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