Zero-exclusion schools can still tackle poor behaviour, says London council amid criticism over policy

·3-min read
Four schools in the UK are on the top 10 shortlists for the World’s Best School Prizes, launched by company T4 Education (PA) (PA Wire)
Four schools in the UK are on the top 10 shortlists for the World’s Best School Prizes, launched by company T4 Education (PA) (PA Wire)

A London council has hit back at accusations that it risks “ruining the life chances of other pupils” with its zero-exclusions behaviour policy in schools.

Southwark council this week launched an “inclusion charter” for schools which encourages them not to exclude disruptive children.

It is the first local authority to launch such a scheme which aims to cut the number of children being kicked out of school.

But the government’s school behaviour tsar warned the move risks creating less safe schools where bad behaviour is tolerated.

Tom Bennett, school behaviour adviser to the Department for Education, said: “What the charter clearly states is that for any behaviour short of the most extreme behaviours like knife crime and so on, this school should probably consider not excluding

“That sounds fine in principle but there’s lots of misbehaviour short of criminality which absolutely harrow and ruin the life chances of children in schools.

“All children have got the right to a safe, dignified learning which is calm and staff do too, and exclusions are a necessary part of that process.”

He said schools which choose not to exclude a pupil could expose other children to “days and days of indignity and harassment”.

However, Southwark Council defended the plan and insisted it includes measures to tackle bad beahviour.

A spokeswoman said: “Disruption will be addressed. It is not a ban on how schools operate to support children, it’s additional holistic support for them from the local authority and its partner agencies.

“We have highly qualified social workers working in a trauma informed way, within school settings, and in addition, trained practitioners from the mental health service (called The Nest) can also come into schools to support the children.”

She added: “This helps children who have suffered neglect, trauma, or have mental health issues, or are otherwise vulnerable stay in formal education of all kinds – not that they will be left, long-term, either at home or in an educational setting that doesn’t fit their needs.”

The charter includes keeping children in mainstream schools as well as specialist education such as Pupil Referral Units and preventing them from being sent home without support.

The council has already cut the number of permanent school exclusions from 49 in 2018 to 10 in 2020. In the autumn 2021 term, there were no exclusions in Southwark schools.

The charter recognises that there are “rare instances” where exclusion is unavoidable to safeguard children, but encourages those who sign up to it not to take “concerning behaviour” at face value, and rather to “strive to understand what is driving that behaviour.”

It comes after the Evening Standard highlighted the issues in its Excluded campaign which supported the creation of inclusion units within schools.

Councillor Jasmine Ali, Deputy Leader and cabinet member for children, young people and education at Southwark, said: “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.”

One Southwark secondary school headteacher said they would continue to use exclusions as a last resort for poor behaviour: “If there was a serious violent incident, it would be completely inappropriate to keep that child in school.”

They added: “Schools have not signed up to a zero-exclusions policy. They came up with a charter of striving towards 100 per cent inclusion while recognising that in some cases exclusions will be a last resort.”

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