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Let’s get to the heart of the problem of school ‘exclusions’

15 March, 2019 — By John Gulliver

Cllr Samata Khatoon to lead a Town Hall panel 
I HAVE received a disturbing letter from a mother whose son was excluded from a well-known senior school in Camden two or three years ago which underlined all the built-in faults of a system which is recognised as one of the factors behind the latest and deplorable surge in knife crime.

I was alerted to the problem of exclusions last autumn when I attended a meeting of the council’s children’s committee and realised from its agenda how superficially it appeared to be dealing with the problem. And it is a problem in Camden.

Roughly, there were about 7,700 exclusions from schools in the UK in the year 2016-17 – and around 1,000, yes as alarmingly high as that, could be found in Camden. Yet, the agenda made no attempt to break down the figure as to race, gender or school but simply gave a global figure as if only that was necessary. I rang two or three councillors and hopefully got minds working.

More recently the same committee, sensibly, set up a panel, along the lines of a parliamentary committee, to interview parents, teachers and pupils – to establish a real analysis of what is a scandal.

It is obviously necessary, judging by the mother’s letter.

She describes how after, quite accidentally, her young teen son stood at the back of a group of boys who were misbehaving in the school corridor, he was snapped by CCTV – and within a day she received a letter informing her that he had been temporarily excluded.

She had not been fore­warned. She was not called into a preliminary meeting. There had been no due process. No judicial process.

Her son had been found guilty, under school rules similar to the laws governing Joint Enterprise in criminal cases, and had been simply turfed out of school. The school had acted as judge, jury and executioner.

Fortunately, the mother refused to stand for such non­sense, immediately appealed with the help of a well-known campaigner and educationist, Gus John, a former East London education chief – and won.

The boy was reinstated, the “caution” expunged, but by then the psychological damage had been done.

The school’s system on exclusions was clearly archaic; the headteacher and colleagues reveal how little they knew as to how to carry out a proper and judicious investigation. All of which shows what is fundamen­tally wrong with a system that lays such powers on a school.

Let us hope the council’s panel, chaired by Councillor Samata Khatoon, will look at this side of the crisis caused by exclusions.

This is an ur­gent problem – and whatever its weight in the fight against knife crime, it merits a thorough examination.

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