In March 2022, myself and other young campaigners got an opportunity to share our lived experiences of school exclusion with the Department of Education. In particular, we discussed the Statutory Guidance on School Exclusions and Behaviour - a document that was never shared with me whilst I was at school.
Throughout my secondary school years, I met regularly with the senior leadership team and members of the governing body to discuss my future. I often attended these meetings alone, puzzled by the school exclusion process but fearful that it just might be my fate. The outcome was always the same, so things never changed for me.
I was one of those kids that struggled from the start to adjust to mainstream education. It was an internal struggle fighting me daily of wanting to learn but not being able to focus. As a way out, I turned to distractions that disrupted my learning and that of others. My teachers felt that they had no other choice than to remove me from class. They were blinded to the support and reasonable adjustments that I needed. My teachers labelled me disruptive and badly behaved and I saw them as biased and impatient. In truth, we needed to let go of our negative preconceptions and work together.
Paragraph 19 in the Statutory Guidance for school suspensions and exclusions calls for early intervention to address underlying causes of disruptive behaviour. Early intervention is important because it encourages a teacher to observe and support their student academically and pastorally while the student is taught how to listen and work through adversity. I had to wait until my last year of university for my early intervention assessments.
It’s important that I first share my story to remove any unconscious bias around excluded children. As an adult reflecting, I know what I got wrong but where did my school go wrong with me? Removing me from class, isolating me from my peers, and excluding me from school did not change my behaviour. It did not deter my peers from getting into trouble, nor did it improve the behaviour of the school. They excluded children to whom they had a responsibility to include. These are children who largely came from ethnic backgrounds that were already excluded from wider society. In 2019, it was reported that Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller and Black Caribbean children were being excluded between double to four times the national rate. Children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) were also reported to be excluded at six times the national rate. These are the groups of children and young people who are disproportionately excluded. There is a greater responsibility on teachers to include children from these backgrounds in classroom discussions and examinations. My right to education should not be denied due to my ethnic background or any learning difficulties I may have. As campaigners, we advised the Department of Education to shift its focus from isolation to mentorship and pastoral support for every child facing exclusion at school.
I joined the school exclusion campaign at Just for Kids Law to speak for children who are experiencing behaviour problems in school. We want to stay in school and we want an education, but we just require a little more attention – the same attention you give to the kids who are getting on well and are achieving the best grades in class. If we are excluded, we need a reintegration plan to help us get on top of our work and in supportive relationships with our teachers and peers. I want to remind the DfE and all schoolteachers that every child is your responsibility: include them in your public consultations and speak to them for five minutes after class.
Let’s work together to ensure the behaviour policy for schools is achieved and every child reaches their full potential.
Written by Johnathan Akindutire, School Exclusion campaigner at Just for Kids Law