Promoting inclusion won’t mean banning exclusions in London

No, we don't endorse 'zero exclusions' - but we must work together to include more of London's children, say Lib Peck and Maureen McKenna

No, we don't endorse 'zero exclusions' - but we must work together to include more of London's children, say Lib Peck and Maureen McKenna

15 Sep 2023, 5:00

The Mayor of London set up London’s Violence Reduction Unit with the intention to bring about change in how we tackle violence. This requires change in how we view and treat young people.

For us, embedding an approach rooted in prevention and early intervention has meant developing a child-centred approach that puts the rights of children and young people front and centre.

And it means change for education too.

Children are unarguably safer when they’re in school, and they can only improve educational outcomes when they’re in the classroom, learning. To make that happen for all children, environments must be built around inclusion.

We know there is a strong causational link between all forms of exclusion (including absenteeism, suspensions and managed moves) and violence and exploitation.

A Department for Education report in March last year clearly stated that it’s more common for children who are cautioned or sentenced for a serious violence offence to have been suspended or permanently excluded from education. Fewer than one in 200 children are permanently excluded, but among the prison population almost half have been.

It’s a correlation not to be ignored. That’s why, alongside our investment in nurturing and healthy relationships led by charities nurtureuk and Tender, we’re seeking to build positive change and support through the London Inclusion Charter.

Our ambition is for a Charter built on partnership and the principles of promoting inclusive practices in school. It’s built around the voice of children and young people – a voice often missing in discussions and decisions about their education – and informed by teachers, headteachers, education specialists, families and local authorities.

Does that mean a zero-tolerance approach to exclusion?

Absolutely and unequivocally not.

Zero tolerance to exclusions? Unequivocally not

Teachers and children must be protected, and if a line has been crossed it’s entirely right to exclude.

What the Charter seeks to do is galvanise action to support and prioritise inclusive practices in our schools and to tackle stark disproportionalities by focusing on anti-racism and equitable practices in curriculum.

Our aim is to shine a light on promising practice in schools across our city, celebrating inclusion and working in partnership to tackle all forms of exclusion. This goes hand-in-hand with increasing young people’s feelings of safety and belonging so that they can thrive.

We’ve asked Maureen McKenna to work with us to achieve these aims. She brings energy, determination and the experience of working with the teaching profession to develop and embed inclusive practices in Glasgow. Over 14 years, she presided over a drop in fixed-term exclusions of over 90 per cent, which coincided with a 50 per cent reduction in violence affecting young people in the city.

London’s challenges, governance, population, structures, diverse communities, and much more besides are all different to Glasgow’s. But we share a recognition that children can only learn when they’re in schools where they feel safe, secure and welcome.

It’s often pointed out that exclusion figures in London are low, but this only partially tells the story.

Sitting below that are rising suspensions and increasing rates of absenteeism. In 2021/22, suspensions rose 14 per cent from their pre-pandemic level. Children are presenting with more distressed behaviours post-pandemic and it’s likely we will see a further increase in the UK, including in Glasgow, when 2022/23 figures are published.

Meanwhile, the rate of persistent absenteeism has more than doubled nationally in the five-year period to 2021. In London, more than 200,000 were consistently missing education (nearly 19 per cent of the total student population).

That’s why we must work together to support, embed and promote inclusion in education in London. A key part of that must be with schools, because tackling the challenges facing young people requires support, shared knowledge and investment.

Our work on the Charter aims to bring all of these to bear on identifying, recognising and promoting the inclusive practices teachers and school staff are already implementing to support children and young people to stay and to thrive in school.

Working in partnership like this can only make our streets and our schools safer and enable all to thrive. After the disruptions of the pandemic, we owe that to all our young people.

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