Published on
25 October 2019

The school system urgently needs overhauling to break the link between school exclusions and knife crime, a cross-party group of MPs has found.  

In its report ‘Back to School? Breaking the link between school exclusions and knife crime’ released today the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Knife Crime calls for an end to part-time education for excluded pupils, and for mainstream schools to be more accountable for the children they exclude.  

The APPG, chaired by Sarah Jones MP and supported by Barnardo’s and youth charity Redthread, wants a Government-led review to examine why many excluded children do not get the full-time education they are legally entitled to.

Permanent exclusions have risen by 70 per cent since  2012 and the APPG’s own research found a third of local authorities in England do not have spaces in their pupil referral units (PRUs) for excluded children.

Those who do secure places are sometimes only taught for a couple of hours each day, with a restricted curriculum of just English and Maths.

‘Back to school?’ calls on the Government to ensure all local authorities are able to give children taught in PRUs full time high quality education. 

The APPG found:

  • Although all pupils are legally entitled to full-time education six days after an exclusion, ‘too often this is not happening’.
  • Children said lack of classroom time increases their risk of criminal exploitation and involvement in violence.
  • There is a ‘disturbing correlation’ between children excluded from school and those involved in ‘county lines’ gang exploitation .
  • Some schools are expelling pupils because they are struggling to find the resources to support children and manage their behaviour .
  • Increasingly schools are being too hasty in excluding children for minor misbehaviour due to the flawed school rankings system and Ofsted inspection regime

The APPG’s report calls for the school rankings system to be overhauled so schools keep some accountability for the results of pupils they exclude.  This would mean schools work to avoid exclusions by working with troubled and vulnerable children.

Chair of the APPG, and MP for Croydon Central, Sarah Jones said:

“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.

“Excluding children must be a last resort. But we hear all too often of schools stretched too thin to provide the wrap-around support 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.

Barnardo’s Chief Executive, Javed Khan said:

“Children excluded from school are often amongst 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 PRUs 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. Government, education, police, charities and communities must work together to help give these children a positive future.”

Redthread Chief Executive, John Poyton said:

“We know that young people who are excluded from school have often experienced a range of challenges in their lives. To keep these children safe, professionals must support them around these vulnerabilities, not use exclusion as the first port of call when faced with them.

“Good alternative provision is underpinned by an understanding of vulnerability and trauma- informed approaches, and for a small minority of young people this is the therapeutic space they need. But too often exclusion serves only to exacerbate a child’s vulnerabilities, and leaves them open to exploitation.

“To prevent unnecessary exclusions we must ensure a trauma informed approach is integrated into practice in both mainstream education, children’s social care as well as across the youth work sector.”

Appendix 1 – Recommendations in the APPG report

  1. School rankings and results must take account of all pupils, including those they exclude
  2. All excluded children must have access to the full time education they are legally entitled to -  too many do not currently get this.
  3. All education providers must have the funding and backing they need to support vulnerable children
  4. Schools must be recognised for the central role they play in a multi-agency response to keeping children safe, with funding to support this work
  5. Everyone working in the education sector must be trained to understand vulnerability and trauma. Best practice should be identified and spread
  6. Schools should be supported to focus on prevention and early intervention
  7. Every council should have a leader responsible for children excluded from school