A taskforce set up by the mayor of London Sadiq Khan will spend £4.7 million to cut school exclusions in the capital, it has been announced.
London’s violence reduction unit will spend the money on a series of programmes to “tackle school exclusions” and support vulnerable young people through education.
I have been clear that we have to do everything we can to keep young people in schools
The programmes will seek to boost knowledge, skills and confidence among school staff so they can identify and support young people at risk of becoming perpetrators or victims of violence.
They will also include peer support and workshops to help pupils build “healthy relationships”, and support for pupils moving from primary to secondary school. The money will also be used for additional after-school provision in “high-crime areas”.
In focusing on exclusions, City Hall is aiming to replicate an approach used by officials in Glasgow. According to the mayor’s office, exclusions in the Scottish city have reduced by 81 per cent, and violence by 48 per cent over the past decade.
Today the mayor pointed to research published by the Greater London Authority in July, which found that nine in ten persistent offenders had been excluded from school at some point.
“I have been clear that we have to do everything we can to keep young people in schools, and the current approach to exclusions simply isn’t working – for teachers or pupils – and this has to change,” said Khan.
“Our hard-working teachers are doing everything they can to keep young people in schools and engaged with their education, but they are struggling because of a lack funding and support from government.”
Khan’s intervention comes after his Liberal Democrat challenger in next year’s mayoral election announced that no child will be permanently excluded in London if she wins the election.
Siobhan Benita made the pledge in a speech to the Lib Dem party conference, prompting accusations her plans would be “recklessly detrimental” to the safety of pupils.
However the Conservative party is taking a much stronger line on exclusions. Prime minister Boris Johnson has promised to give schools the “powers they need to deal with bad behaviour“.
A poll found a desire for school discipline to be “stricter” was a popular opinion amongst both right- and left-wing voters.
The debate over links between exclusions and serious youth violence has escalated in recent years in response to rising numbers of attacks, with schools often on the receiving end of calls for them to do more to tackle the issue.
However, despite evidence of a correlation between exclusion and involvement in serious youth violence, many sector voices have warned against creating a causal link between the two issues, with some pointing instead to austerity and its impact on local youth and police services as the root cause of problems in London and elsewhere.
A study released by the Ministry of Justice last year found that although young people caught carrying a knife were more likely to fail at school or be persistently absent, only a “very small proportion” committed their offence shortly after being excluded.
An Ofsted study later found “no evidence” to suggest exclusions are the root cause of the surge in knife violence. The watchdog said schools lack the “ability or the resources to counter the complex societal problems behind the rise in knife crime”.
A planned government duty to make schools accountable for tackling serious youth violence is currently on the back-burner because of the election.