‘Deep-seated problems’: Race disproportionality in Hackney school exclusions called out

Photograph: David Hawgood.

Research showing that ethnic minority children in Hackney are currently significantly more likely than their white peers to receive multiple fixed-term exclusions from school has provoked consternation among local youth charities and the Town Hall this month.

Hackney was one of a number of local authorities identified by the Centre for Social Justice, as part of the IntegratED partnership which works to reduce preventable exclusions, at which a striking disproportionality in ethnicity was seen in fixed-term exclusions for the 2018/19 school year.

Data analyst Alice Wilcock studied collated incidences of multiple fixed-term exclusions for pupils broken down by four different minority ethnic groups, categorised as Black Caribbean-heritage, white & Black Caribbean-heritage, Gypsy/Roma and Traveller of Irish heritage pupils.

The data shows that Hackney’s pupils of Black Caribbean and mixed white & Black Caribbean heritage are both around four times more likely than white British pupils to receive multiple fixed term exclusions, under which a pupil’s school attendance is temporarily suspended, a process which often ends with a child receiving a permanent exclusion.

Local youth worker and campaigner Luke Billingham said: “It is profoundly worrying to see that Hackney is one of the worst-performing local authorities in the country for racially disproportionate fixed-term exclusions. It is a disgrace and an injustice.

“Sadly, though, it is also very unsurprising, for those of us who support young people and parents through difficulties in the local education system. Youth workers and other youth professionals across the borough have been raising concerns about these issues for many years.

“We’ve all sat in too many school meetings in which parents and students have been stereotyped, belittled, or patronised. We’ve all known students with immense academic potential get treated punitively and unfairly, in discriminatory ways.

“These statistics reflect deep-seated problems in Hackney education. This is of course a complex issue. We know that exam results and school facilities have improved significantly in Hackney over the past couple of decades, and we know that local educational problems are affected by wider national issues, such as austerity, Department for Education policies, and incredibly difficult working conditions for teachers.

“We also know that the council, Learning Trust and schools are trying, through various initiatives, to address this problem. But far more could and should be a done at a local level to resolve this injustice.”

Wilcock added: “Black Caribbean pupils in Hackney are four times more likely to be fixed-term excluded than their white British peers.

“The government stated, in its response to the Timpson review, that local authorities and schools should monitor exclusion trends by ethnicity in order to reduce these disparities. We are still waiting for the government to update the school exclusions guidance to reflect this.”

Pupils can be excluded from school for five days before a school must find an alternative, in either a pupil referral unit (PRU) or alternative provision (AP).

Repeated exclusions often pave the way for permanent exclusions from school, according to a study by the Institute for Public Policy Research, which highlighted the fact that permanently excluded pupils will often remain in PRUs, an arrangement which is supposed to be temporary while the student waits for a new place in a different institution, until after their GCSEs.

The research, which was conducted by data analyst Alice Wilcock for the Centre for Social Justice, focused on multiple fixed-term exclusions due to the difficulty in capturing statistically significant figures for permanent exclusions due to small sample sizes and data gaps, taking more than one exclusion of a fixed period within an academic year as a proxy for relative rates nationally.

Among the borough’s 3,236 Black Caribbean-heritage pupils, there were 262 incidents of multiple fixed-term exclusion in the 2018/19 school year, a rate of just over 8 per 100 pupils – the 12th highest rate in the 47 local authorities identified by Wilcock in which a pupil of Black Caribbean heritage is at least twice as likely to experience a multiple fixed-term exclusion.

Black Caribbean-heritage pupils in Hackney are just over four times more likely than their white British peers to be multiply excluded from school on a fixed-term basis. The highest rate found by the study was Gloucestershire, where pupils of the same group faced a relative likelihood of just over five and a half times.

There were 1,078 pupils of white & Black Caribbean heritage in Hackney in the same school year, among whom there were 83 multiple fixed term-exclusions. This was the seventh highest rate of the 62 local authorities analysed by IntegratED where a pupil of white & Black Caribbean heritage was at least twice as likely to be excluded more than once in the academic year.

Pupils in this group in Hackney were found to be just under four times more likely than their white British peers to experience multiple fixed term exclusions. Wokingham was the worst performing in this category, with a four and a half times relative likelihood.

The study also found that the borough’s 137 pupils who are Travellers of Irish heritage were just over twice as likely to be excluded, with 6 incidences found in 2018/19, a rate of just over four per 100 pupils.

Hackney does not appear in the data for exclusions of Gypsy/Roma students, where in Sheffield children of this ethnic group were just under nine times more likely to be excluded than their white British peers.

Responding to the research, Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Deputy Mayor of Hackney, said: “I am concerned about the high level of exclusions of Black children and young people in Hackney.

“We are working closely with schools to tackle disproportionality in school exclusions. 

“This work includes training for staff, guidance on behaviour policies and co-ordinated early help for young people who need it, including help for those who have been excluded to ensure they can get back into education as quickly as possible.” 

Wilcock’s report pointed to recommendations by the 2019 Timpson Review of School Exclusion, which called for funding for equality and diversity hubs, the increase of diversity in senior leadership teams in schools, and that governing bodies, academy trusts and local school forums should review information on patterns of children leaving school.

Billingham added: “We need bravery from senior leadership in the education system – we need leaders to call out the fact that “zero tolerance” and “no excuses” behaviour policies in local schools have discriminatory effects, punishing those who most need a supportive education.

“We need some frank discussions about both racial and social class prejudice in our schools. We need more acknowledgement of the profound harm that all forms of exclusion have on children and young people – from my youth work in Hackney and from my work with the cross-party parliamentary Youth Violence Commission, I know just how devastating exclusions can be.

“Hackney is one of the most multicultural places in the country, and should excel at providing an equitable education for people from all cultural backgrounds, if it is to be “a place for everyone”.

“Instead, it remains a place which privileges white, middle class people, in all sorts of ways, but particularly in our education system. We can continue to tinker around the edges of this problem, or we can face it head-on.”