Tackle systemic racism that leads to children being excluded from school

It is nothing short of a scandal that so many children and young people are excluded from school and that so many of them overrepresent their communities (Exclusion rates five times higher for black Caribbean pupils in parts of England, 24 March). Sadly, this is not a new phenomenon. The disproportionate exclusion (either because of their perceived “behaviour” or supposed special educational needs) of children and young people from certain ethnicities – or those from socio-economically deprived communities – has been a consistent and growing trend for years.

Why, when we don’t tolerate physical violence to children, do we continue to allow psychological violence? That is what exclusion is. We have outlawed the segregation of members of different races and ethnicities, but continue to segregate children and young people in “special” provision. What is wrong with education?
Simon Gibbs
Professor of inclusive educational psychology and philosophy, Newcastle University

Your article was profoundly upsetting, but sadly does not come as a surprise to my charity. We regularly see disproportionate numbers of children from black Caribbean, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller backgrounds excluded from school as a result of racism. The “school to prison pipeline” is also all too familiar. We see many children from black Caribbean backgrounds wrongly excluded and criminalised when they are in fact victims of criminal exploitation.

The process for challenging exclusions is flawed and ill-equipped to address racial discrimination. Families who believe their child has been excluded due to race discrimination can struggle to access justice. Discrimination cases for protected characteristics other than disability are heard by the county court rather than the first-tier tribunal, which can incur prohibitive fees. Too many reviews and inquiries have failed to result in concrete action to tackle this pressing injustice.

The government must act urgently to end this systematic discrimination with a strategy – developed in consultation with those children and young people most affected – to eliminate racism in school exclusions and allow race discrimination cases to be heard in the first-tier tribunal.
Louisa McGeehan
CEO, Just for Kids Law

While the exclusion story is welcome, this is old news using data from July 2020. Both the policy of exclusion and the UK’s racism, institutional or otherwise, deserve regular revisiting, if only to demonstrate that the exclusion statistics for English schools remain largely the same year after year. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have different regulations and much lower exclusion rates.

Until we put the duty of care above the will to punish, poorer groups and minorities will suffer disproportionately. I have been an advocate for the children and families in three permanent exclusion cases in 2020 (all lost) and know how unjust the system is.

I have also researched schools that are zero excluders, where amazingly capable professional teachers work in a positive school climate to maintain the continued education of all children, and especially vulnerable children for whom our duty of care should be paramount. It is the existence of such teachers and such schools that give one some hope.
Prof Carl Parsons
Greenwich, London

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