A new report out today looks at how thousands of vulnerable children are falling through gaps in the education system, putting them at risk not only of low attainment but also serious violence, county lines, criminal exploitation, grooming and harm.
It calls for a new era of incentivising all schools to become more inclusive and makes a series of recommendations for how schools can be supported to divert vulnerable teenagers away from crime and exploitation and enable them to thrive.
The report by the Commission on Young Lives, ‘All Together Now: Inclusion not exclusion – supporting all young people to succeed in school’. highlights the disadvantages and dangers that falling out of school can have on some young people and highlights the scale of the challenge facing the education system.
It found that there is ahigh number of children in England excluded from school,thousands of children who are persistently absent from school and an alternative provision that is failing to provide many children with a good education or to keep them safe.
The report highl;ighted a send system that is not meeting the needs of many vulnerable children,a school inspections system that does not value inclusion and can offer perverse incentives for some schools to remove children from their school roll and the disproportionate number of Black children who are not attending school or are excluded from school.
The number of children excluded from school rose by 5% in the autumn of 2019 compared to the same period the previous year.Permanent exclusion figures have seen a gradual rise from 5,082 in 2010/11 to 7,894 in 2018/19, before Covid and even before the Covid-affected year of 2019/20, 5,057 children in England were permanently excluded
Recent research by the DfE and MoJ has highlighted how one in five (22%) of children that had ever been permanently excluded were also cautioned or sentenced for a serious violence offence. 59% of children that had ever been permanently excluded were also cautioned or sentenced for an offence. The Commission has also taken evidence from school leaders and youth workers about some of the ruthless methods criminal gangs are using to drive a wedge between vulnerable children and schools, such as encouraging them to become permanently excluded for taking drugs or weapons to school, or for violent behaviour.
The report also highlights the poor outcomes for children who are moved into Alternative Provision. Just 4% of pupils in AP passed English and Maths at GCSE, compared to 64% in mainstream.
‘All Together Now’ makes recommendations to challenge the culture of exclusion and encourage a more inclusive education system, holding schools accountable for excluding or moving children off the school role, but also providing them with the support and resource they need to keep children in school.
While many schools have inclusion and nurture at the heart of their school ethos, many school leaders feel the system discourages them from inclusivity and nurture. The report calls for a trauma-responsive, inclusive, community-led continuous education system that provides support to all children, from cradle to career and ensures every child receives the good education.
Anne Longfield, Chair of the Commission on Young Lives, said:
“Look behind the headlines of the tragic deaths, acts of serious violence and criminal exploitation of our young people over recent years and so often you see a pattern of children disengaging and falling out of school and into harm. Not all children who leave mainstream school will be affected, but the statistics show that too many will – even more so if the child has Special Educational Needs or is Black. These are the young people at the sharp end of an education system which has not always prioritised the needs of vulnerable children, and one that I believe could and should be transformed to ensure all children can succeed.
“We should celebrate the excellent outcomes our education system provides for most children, while being determined to change the fact that thousands of children in England are leaving school without good qualifications or are falling through gaps in the education system, putting them at greater risk of danger.
“A system that has no real accountability for a five-year-old boy being excluded 17 times in a year, or where a vulnerable teenager is out of school for months or even years, is not a system that is working for every child.
“Over recent years, we have seen the growth of an exclusions culture that perversely rewards removing some vulnerable children from school roll. That must not continue. We need a new culture of inclusion and accountability, that recognises and rewards nurture and which sticks with children and families from cradle to career.
“This does not mean that our ambitions for academic achievement and high standards of behaviour should be lowered – far from it. Our ambition must be for all children to feel learning and achievement is for them, and to feel school is somewhere that they want to be.
“Inclusive schools and college around the country are already showing how it can be done. They are an anchor in the community, offering families and children the support they need to do well. But too often they are the exception because the system does not provide schools with the direction, support, and resources needed to deliver for every child. The Government’s Education White Paper and SEND Green Paper are a welcome change of direction towards this more inclusive system, though not yet with the necessary financial support.
“High aspiration, high standards and high expectations should always go alongside a sense of responsibility for all children. We should never be content with an education system that too often provides those who want to exploit children with a conveyor belt of vulnerable teenagers. An inclusive education system is a key weapon in our battle against them.”
Rev. Steve Chalke, founder of Oasis, which hosts the Commission on Young Lives, and runs 52 academy schools across England said:
“Our society will not flourish until we provide safe and inclusive education for all children and young people. Without it, not only will it be impossible to end the epidemic of teenage violence and exploitation, but we will never create equity of opportunity for every child. This is why Oasis hosts the Commission on Young Lives, and why we work, through our schools and youth work, for the inclusion of every child, every day.”