In 2018 Big Change introduced a new focus area through our Fast Track funding scheme; school exclusions.
It is often the most vulnerable children who are excluded when they should instead be supported for mental health issues, learning difficulties, or unsafe and stressful home environments. Children with learning difficulties are seven per cent more likely to be excluded, those with mental health issues are 10 per cent more likely, and children who are interacting with social services are 20 times more likely to be excluded. Did you know that 35 children per day will be excluded from mainstream education? Many of these won’t be recorded in official figures.
Facing exclusion then creates even more barriers for both their education and their long-term outcomes. Once excluded they enter a cycle that sees half of them make up the prison population. Only one per cent go on to achieve five GCSEs, so they’re more likely to become unemployed and suffer severe mental health issues.
The first project partner in Big Change’s Exclusions focus area is new charity, The Difference. Founded by the inspirational Kiran Gill, The Difference have developed a specialist training programme to connect exceptional teachers to schools for excluded children and create a community of leaders to drive change throughout England’s education system, reducing the number of exclusions.
The average teacher receives only around three hours of training to understand the causes of poor behaviour, which can lead to exclusion. The Difference programme aims to depersonalise behaviour for teachers, increasing the understanding about why behavioural issues occur and how to address it positively. Recognising the root issues means children are supported to remain in school and don’t face the additional barriers of being excluded.
This year Big Change founders Holly Branson and Princess Beatrice joined The Difference to visit two of their partner PRUs (Pupil Referral Units) to learn more about why this area needs intervention. Excluded children enter often over-subscribed PRUs for primary and secondary schooling support to return to mainstream schools.
Most children attend for an average of 15 to 20 weeks. The unfair stigma of being a previous student of a PRU presents a barrier in itself even though some of these schools such as the ones we visited - Hawkswood Primary and Burnside Secondary - are working incredibly hard to prove that PRUs can have high expectations for their students.
The Difference head of curriculum, Shaun Brown, has worked in PRUs, helping him to modify his practice and reduce numbers of exclusion when he returned to work in a mainstream school as the leader of inclusion.
Shaun’s frontline experience has given him the passion to create a new generation of specialist leaders, committed and up-skilled to cut exclusion. In January, The Difference will launch their training programme with their first ever IncludED conference.
The Difference aims to recruit specialist teachers who are established and want to be leaders in this area to take skills back to the mainstream and reduce exclusions. It’s a programme that Holly Branson says: "if supported and funded by government, the private sector and donors, will help to prevent the long-term damage caused to young people (and their families) by cutting the number of school exclusions in the UK."
It’s imperative that changes are ultimately made in the mainstream because even with exceptional PRU facilities, the experience of exclusion due to trauma is traumatic in itself, leaving already vulnerable children feeling unwanted and incapable.
At Hawkswood Primary they battle these feelings by teaching a growth mindset around the idea of ‘yet’; ‘I can’t do that – yet’, ‘I don’t understand that – yet’. This teaches pupils that failure is just a step in the learning journey.
If we don’t address the issue of school exclusion now, numbers will continue to rise year-on-year. These children will face incredible barriers in all life’s opportunities, and each will cost the country £370,000 in extra education, benefits, healthcare and criminal justice over their lifetime.
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