The South London borough, Southwark, is the first to pledge to follow a no-exclusion policy in the UK . Schools signing up for an inclusion charter pledge aim not to exclude other than in cases where other pupils are at risk of harm.
A trauma-informed approach
Southwark council are supporting teachers to take a ‘trauma-informed’ approach to pupil behaviour in schools. Research shows that the impact of childhood adversity has a long-term effect on mental and physical health . Many of these adverse experiences in children are displayed in their behaviour at school. Using a trauma-informed approach in schools ensures that children can develop positive mental health and resilience .
A trauma-informed approach supports the most vulnerable school children. This helps children in finding ways to manage their emotions and feelings healthily . These school children may suffer from trauma, abuse, neglect, mental health problems, or attachment issues .
Southwark council, with representatives of head teachers, partners and safeguarding boards, launched an Inclusion Charter in 2020 . The Charter’s  mission for a ‘100 per cent inclusion of children in education that keeps them safe and enables them to flourish’ was agreed upon by the Cabinet in July 2022 .
The charter commits to an approach focused on early intervention with pupils. This includes managed moves between schools that offer pupils a fresh start , which is discussed openly with the schools, pupil and their families. Moreover, this focus on preventing exclusion and supporting children removes the issue of children missing their education . The Charter does add that there are rare instances where exclusion is unavoidable to safeguarding children, where an exclusion will be an option.
“With over 95 per cent of schools at good or outstanding quality, we are really proud of our education offer. But we know that not every child finds mainstream education fits their needs. So, we are here for those children especially – if they need particular support, either within the mainstream school setting or in specialist education, and what we want to avoid at all costs is exclusion and children being left in a no-man’s-land where parents feel they have no choice but to try to educate their children themselves. This often proves an impossible challenge for families and leaves children vulnerable to falling out of society. This is why we want the Inclusion Charter to keep them in formal education of all kinds – to be safe, to succeed, to flourish and to enjoy their education.”Jasmine Ali – Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Education
For or against?
Tom Bennett, a government adviser on Behaviour to the Department for Education, said the Charter introduced by Southwark Council to reduce the number of exclusions could leave children open to ‘indignity and harassment’. Tom Bennett claims the charter ‘clearly’ states that any behaviour other than extreme behaviours like knife crime sounds reasonable in principle, but misbehaviour ‘short of criminality’ would ‘harrow and ruin the life chances of children’ in schools .
Bennett believes exclusions are a ‘necessary part of the process’  as children and staff have the right to a safe learning environment. However, if students are constantly excluded for the same reason is the exclusion really helping? ‘Misbehaviour’ can be perceived in many forms by teachers. Children with special needs and learning disabilities, for example, may display behaviour that is deemed ‘disruptive’ but could their behaviour be because they have unmet needs.
Jasmine Ali found in 2018 that the borough had seen exclusions rising sharply, with 49 exclusions occurring . The council consequently formed a strategy with partners from the safeguarding board and schools, which resulted in exclusion rates falling by almost 20% .
The problem with exclusions
Vulnerable children should be provided support to prevent them from being unnecessarily excluded. Being managed-moved to different schools without tackling the core reason for a child’s behaviour will result in a destructive cycle of the same problem. There are many adverse effects of exclusion on a young person, as outlined in our previous blog, ‘Should primary school exclusions be banned?’. For example, young people who get excluded from school are more vulnerable to criminal or sexual exploitation .
The Timpson Review of School Exclusion conducted by DoE in 2019 showed that children from African-Caribbean, Irish Traveller and Gypsy/Roma backgrounds are three to four times more likely to be excluded than other groups . If certain pupils are punished more for the same behaviour that their peers show, are exclusions really used fairly?
A temporary ‘fix’ by excluding children from a school does not tackle the root of the issue. An inclusion policy within schools will benefit pupils and their families. It will make way for the growth of schools in building their skills in preventing excluding school children. This will also bridge relationships with organisations/charities that specialise in providing support for schools in preventing school exclusion.
Who are we?
Say It With Your Chest (SIWYC) is a non-profit organisation that works with pupils at risk of school exclusion. With services like the Switch Ambassador Programme, SIWYC employs its expertise and knowledge to empower young people in secondary school who are at risk of being excluded.
Can your young people benefit from the specialised services that SIWYC can offer? Get in touch today to find out more about our services.