By Grainne Cuffe, Local Democracy Reporter
Pupils were excluded from schools in Southwark for eating a biscuit in class and opening a door too hard, according to a new report.
Southwark’s education and business scrutiny commission’s investigation into the “rising trend of exclusions” in the borough, presented to cabinet on Tuesday of last week, found that exclusions were being made “at a far too casual rate,” and that two academies – Ark and Harris – were responsible for the majority of them.
Nationally, the number of permanent exclusions increased by nearly 71 per cent between 2012 and 2018, to 7,900.
Fixed-term exclusions increased from 267,520 in 2012/13 to 410,800 in 2017/18, a rise of nearly 54 per cent.
The majority of exclusions – 80 per cent – happen in secondary schools.
Presenting the report, chairman of the commission, Councillor Peter Babudu, said the exclusion crisis “has profound effects on the life chances of young people”.
The commission found that in Southwark the “worrying trend” of rising rates of exclusions “is disproportionately impacting black, Asian, and ethnic minority children, those with SEN and schools with high levels of free school meals (FSM) eligibility”.
The figures suggested that 82 per cent of excluded children are black, Asian, and ethnic minority ethnic, double the representative population of under 20s in Southwark.
The report said: “Children with some form of special educational need have made up 39 to 45 per cent of exclusions, and 98 per cent of Southwark’s pupil referral unit attendance, although nationally less than 15 per cent of children have any type of SEN, roughly triple the proportionate rate.”
The commission found that two academy chains were responsible for the majority of exclusions in the borough, Ark and Harris, which “appear to be excluding children at well above the average rate”.
According to the report, Harris Academy Peckham’s rate of exclusion was “of particular concern,” as they were the highest in absolute numbers in 2016, which increased by 150 per cent in 2017/18.
And although the commission “received positive engagement” from Ark, “highlighting various areas of recent progress and explaining its figures in greater context,” the commission received “no engagement from the Harris chain of schools”.
Harris has not yet responded to our requests for a comment.
The main reasons for exclusions in the borough are cited as “persistent disruptive behaviour and unspecified ‘other,’ which includes carrying an offensive weapon”.
The commission heard personal stories of excluded children and said they “painted a picture of exclusions being carried out in far too casual a manner,” while “having profoundly damaging impacts on children who are often already vulnerable”.
“Combined with the picture provided by national and council data, there is a plausible case that a greater willingness to exclude in certain schools has been a key driver of increasing rates of exclusion.”
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