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Pupil Exclusions – Thousands of the Most Vulnerable Young People in Society are Being Failed by our School System

“When it comes to the prison population, 1 in 2 were permanently excluded when at school,” says Kiran Gill

  • Pupil Exclusions – Thousands of the Most Vulnerable Young People in Society are Being Failed by our School System

In your Year 7 class, there is a child whose future we can already predict. His mother isn’t well. On the days she is too sick to work, he is late to school. He doesn’t like to leave her alone, just in case.

At home, he is the man of the house, but at school he’s made to feel small. While the others are at group tables, he’s next to Sandra, the teaching assistant. He knows they think he’s thick. But at least he’s funny. And he’s not scared. When someone disrespects him, he knows what to do. He’s not scared.

This boy will be excluded from school. He’s called Jack, Mohammed, Jaydon. He’s living in London, Blackpool, Reading. He’s had a difficult start –  but where he’s going is worse.

Today in England, 1 in 200 children are being taught in schools for excluded pupils. They are twice as likely to be known to social services, four times more likely to live in poverty and 10 times more likely to have a recognised mental health need.

Only 1% of them are likely to leave with the GCSEs they need to access employment or further study. When it comes to the prison population, 1 in 2 were permanently excluded when at school. These are more likely than others to be repeat offenders.

This isn’t a new problem. As more students have gone to university each year, and school standards have steadily risen, this growing group of children have passed through our schools, largely unnoticed and untouched by education.

The Difference has been established to change this story.

Missing skills

In 2017, I wrote a report for the think tank IPPR called Making the Difference. It uncovered the growing incidence of school exclusion and the need for new expertise in the teaching workforce.

Year on year, there are increasing numbers of students with complex needs – where mental ill health, learning needs and safeguarding concerns combine. Yet a lack of workforce development in schools compounds the challenge students face.

Half of school leaders say their teachers cannot recognise mental ill health, and three in four say they cannot refer effectively to external services.

Meanwhile, as more pupils are excluded close to their exams, the capacity of the staff who work with them after exclusion is diminishing.

Our new data analysis shows that once a child is excluded, they are twice as likely to be taught by an unqualified teacher and twice as likely to have a supply teacher.

At the same time, leadership vacancies in pupil referral units and alternative provision schools have doubled in the last five years.

Our research argued for a programme, The Difference, to create a new generation of school leaders, committed to delivering the best in education to those that need it most. And in 2018, our proposal is becoming a reality.

From February applications will open for our first cohort. Teachers choosing The Difference will be embarking on a two-year programme of Masters-level professional development, alongside a leadership placement in a school serving excluded pupils.

A space for change

The Difference affords the headspace for our leaders to rethink education, according to what the most vulnerable learners need to thrive.

Our leaders step out of mainstream for two years, taking on a leadership challenge in a local pupil referral unit or Alternative Provision academy.

With smaller ratios and the freedom to depart from traditional exam specifications, our leaders have an opportunity to innovate in their practice, and to share their existing expertise with their colleagues in their new school.

Supported by The Difference training programme, our leaders are upskilled in supporting pupils’ mental health, safety and improved post-16 outcomes, as well as working with other services around their students such as youth offending teams and social workers.

After two years, Difference leaders are equipped to return to mainstream as specialist senior leaders, overseeing inclusion.

The country’s biggest multi-academy trusts – Oasis Learning Community, Ark and Ormiston – are amongst those who are keen to hire school leaders from The Difference programme, to cascade best practice in supporting pupil mental health, and breaking the cycle of school exclusion and social exclusion.

At The Difference, we believe the past doesn’t have to be the future. If you want to help rewrite the school exclusion story, then choose a new future in 2018. Join us.

Details of applications can be found at The-Difference.com.


The cost of exclusion – a story in statistics

  • Every cohort of permanently excluded pupils will go on to cost the state an extra £2.1 billion in education, health, benefits and criminal justice costs. Yet more pupils are being excluded, year on year.
  • Despite only 6,685 reported permanent exclusions last year, 48,000 of the most vulnerable pupils were educated in the AP sector, which caters for excluded students. Still more pupils are not captured in any government data, yet are functionally excluded from mainstream school.
  • There are increasing numbers of children with complex needs – where mental ill health, unstable or unsafe family environments and learning needs combine. Yet a lack of workforce development in schools compounds the challenge students face. Half of school leaders say their teachers cannot recognise mental ill health, and three in four say they cannot refer effectively to external services.
  • New data analysis shows once a child is excluded, they are twice as likely to be taught by an unqualified teacher and twice as likely to have a supply teacher. Meanwhile, a leadership recruitment crisis in schools for excluded pupils has seen leader vacancies double between 2011 and 2016.
  • A child excluded from school in the North East is around eight times more likely to attend an alternative provision rated ‘Inadequate’ by Ofsted. In some local authorities with the highest levels of exclusion, 100 per cent of pupils are in settings graded ‘Inadequate’.

Source: Making the Difference – breaking the link between school exclusion and social exclusion (an IPPR report by Kiran Gill, with Harry Quilter-Pinner and Danny Swift, October 2017)


Kiran Gill began her career in inner-city London, as a teacher and leader in schools serving the most deprived postcodes in the country. After five years on the frontline, Kiran left to work in education policy, searching for solutions to the rising number of vulnerable children who fall through the gaps.

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