Having seen the transition for many children within the system, from education, I have noticed that there is a growing trend in the poor life outcomes for children who are excluded from school. School exclusion, not only puts these vulnerable children at risk from attaining low educational prospects, it also puts them at risk from other societal factors that contribute to imprisonment, substance abuse and mental health disorders. Although I understand that teachers are supposed to teach, and the classroom should be a place of order. I can’t help but question, whether this can still be achieved without the permanent exclusion of these young people.
For children who are involved with social care, there a range of factors that influence the way they behave at school. In some cases school can provide a haven, in others it can perpetuate the frustration felt by some of these young people who feel continuously picked on, excluded and ignored. I believe that there are a wide range of alternatives to school exclusions that would not only benefit teachers, but mainly the children who are at risk of exclusion. The key focus would be behaviour management to help children understand their behaviour, as well as safe spaces for children. In this day and age, children of all ages face pressures, that once never existed and these pressures are stimulated by social media, the breakdown of the family and continuous cuts to youth services. I also feel as though the level of support parents receive from professionals can also impact the rates of exclusions. I think more work should be done with parents of children who are facing exclusion with schools in order to put appropriate boundaries in place for these children. There are various cultural, religious and ethnic differences when it comes to parenting, and this can sometimes make it difficult for professionals to effectively work with families. However I strongly believe that it is families we should be working with, not the child in isolation or the parents in isolation, but the family as a whole, including how the family operates within their culture, environment and community.
Schools should take an approach that focuses on the individual well-being of individual children. Due to austerity many schools have seen cuts to funding, meaning delegated social workers have less contact with schools, teachers have more pressures in terms of dealing with pastoral care as well as their own teaching load, and parents are feeling overwhelmed. These factors all pose a great risk to children who are marginalised and on the verge of exclusion, as it paints a picture that they are not cared for, listened to or thought about. The change I believe starts within society, within the way we look at how we work with children on all levels, because at the end of the day, they are just children. Children who are excluded from school, are often vilified from the moment they are excluded, and this stereotype can follow them throughout their educational carer and reinforce the self-fulfilling prophecy. Many times I hear children I have worked with say, ‘my parents think I’m bad, and so do my teachers… I might as well be bad’, and thus the cycle continues. These kind of feelings are often louder for children who are looked after and parented by the state, often they have been through different traumas in their lives which has led to removal, and for some children this can increase the risk of exclusion, it is a well-known fact that some children, not all, in the care system can have their life choices limited and can face many challenges. It is also known that teachers, and professionals don’t always know how to deal with the many emotions, and issues that some of these children may bare, which can manifest in their behaviour in the classroom, thus leading to exclusion. My concern is that, especially for children who are excluded at primary school age, that their attitude and outlook on school can be darkened, and it takes a lot to redirect their thinking and give them a new lease on education, and in some cases on life and their future.
During my emerging social work career, I have worked with many families who have children who are beyond parental control, often out of school and in trouble with the police, or gangs, many of the time their reading and writing levels are below average, or they have an undiagnosed learning difficulty that made learning difficult. The frustration of this, often leading to disengagement in school, poor behaviour and eventually exclusion. It is important that more parents and teachers at an early level seek to understand how a child learns, it is understandable, that with the ratio of children to teachers at school, this can be hard, but it is not something that should be ignored.
It is a well-known fact, that despite their being guidance on working together, professionals who work with young people often don’t. I believe this is one of the reasons why information is missed and young people are slipping through the net, and falling into other temptations. The police, schools, parents and social care need to work better together to provide a well-rounded service for these children. I have sat and observed many multi-agency meetings, where the voice of the child is lost, and they are just seen as ‘the problem’, or agencies are shifting the blame from one agency to another without collectively and actively attempting to come up with the long term solution. I have also sat and observed meetings where professionals representing different agencies have shown a great deal of care, professionalism and creativeness when presenting solutions to some of these problems that young people face.
In my time as a volunteer before taking up my social work career, I worked with a young black boy in an East London school, aged 13 who had great potential, athletically and a charming personality, but he also had a lot going on at home, past trauma of losing a parent, and learning difficulties. His behaviour at school, admittedly disruptive, was in my view a cry for help and attention. There was a world outside of the school walls that drew him in, and unfortunately he often got in a lot of trouble, but that did not take away from his potential. Having worked with him for almost the full academic year, he was finally excluded after throwing a rage induced fit in the school playground where he had to be reprimanded by different staff. It was heart-breaking to hear that he was permanently excluded and my mind, went straight to the reduced choices he would have had. A Pupil referral unit, where he would most likely be influenced by others, due to his vulnerability or the streets, that offered him a life style, and friends he desperately desired. This was a young man, who I know needed attention, love and care and though I agree it is not always the schools job to provide this, I also know that it is a schools duty to protect a child and offer them the same chances as others, or viable options for change. Although I could see potential in this young man, it could be said that not everyone saw the same, which I believe is a sad reality for many schools and many children. Till this day I think of that young man, of what he has become, and constantly hope for a positive change in his life.
Say it With Your Chest, I think is a great platform that is needed to encourage debates surrounding this topic. It is important that these uncomfortable questions and topics are discussed. We should talk about why BAME children are over represented in care, why they are more than twice as likely to be permanently excluded from school in comparison to their white pupils, otherwise these instances will continue. I have a passion for seeing young people succeed and helping in any way I can, which is why I have chosen this career path. I think it is important to give people a platform to discuss these issues, and find a way to address many of the points raised. It isn’t a situation that will change overnight, but I do believe and hope that there are solutions that provide better options for these children.