The sanction of exclusion “must still be available” to keep victims of sexual abuse, violence and bullying safe, the leaders of the National Education Union have said.
Joint general secretaries Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney addressed the NEU’s virtual annual conference today.
We believe that the sanction of exclusion must still be available if that is the correct sanction to keep the victims safe
During the joint address, Bousted told members that “what is important, surely, is that no child or young person is ever excluded from education”.
But she acknowledged that “excellent” alternative provision must be available if a school or a college “ceases to be the best place for that young person”.
Her comments come after the conference passed a motion calling for a “fully inclusive, properly funded education service where exclusion is reduced, ultimately ended”, and a “moratorium on exclusions in the wake of the pandemic”.
This prompted some onlookers to claim the NEU’s approach would put the safety of staff and pupils at risk.
But Bousted today pointed to testimony about sexual abuse in schools shared on the Everyone’s Invited website.
She said she believed her members “do not intend that girls who have been raped in schools and colleges, girls who have been sexually harassed in schools and colleges, would be required to remain in a classroom or walk down a crowded corridor with the perpetrator of that rape or that sexual harassment”.
“The Everyone’s Invited website, with thousands of testimonies from girls and young women, shows the shocking extent of sexual harassment and sexual violence perpetrated against girls and young women in schools and colleges and universities. I have read the testimonies. They are heart-breaking and shaming,” Bousted said.
“And in those cases, and in cases where teachers and support staff are physically attacked while doing their job, we believe that the sanction of exclusion must still be available if that is the correct sanction to keep the victims safe. And to keep boys who are viciously bullied or attacked safe.”
The NEU’s motion earlier this week was on protecting black lives in education, and noted that black students are “more likely” to be excluded from school.
The government’s own Timpson review of exclusions found that children from black Caribbean backgrounds, those of mixed white and black Caribbean ethnicity and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children are more likely to experience exclusion than their peers.
“What is important, surely, is that no child or young person is ever excluded from education,” Bousted said.
“If a school or a college ceases to be the best place for that young person, then the alternative provision provided for them must be excellent, must enable them to progress in their education and in their personal and social development and must enable them to be reintegrated into mainstream education as soon as is possible. That is the interpretation that we will use.”
Courtney told the conference that the union wanted to see “root and branch reform of our education system and a huge reduction in exclusions, particularly a reduction in the exclusion of black boys”, describing the issue as a “running sore in our education system and it needs to be healed”.