New council work aimed at ending permanent exclusions in Year 7 altogether is set to be rolled out across the borough this year, in recognition of the challenges children face in moving from primary to secondary school.
The Town Hall’s Re-Engagement Unit has been working in four secondary schools with children, parents and staff to help pupils in need of specialist support overcome particular difficulties in making the transition, and will be working with every Hackney secondary from September.
The unit’s wider rollout follows a two-year programme on the outcomes for excluded children in the borough, with research last year showing that ethnic minority children in the borough are significantly more likely than their white peers to receive multiple fixed-term exclusions from school.
In a recent interview with the Citizen, Deputy Mayor and education chief Cllr Anntoinette Bramble said: “The way I see exclusions, I reflect on it in the premise of saying to a child that your behaviour is unacceptable and as a result your learning has to stop or be impeded. It seems quite punitive that a child that is struggling, that cannot cope and is doing the wrong thing, that our response is to have a further consequence of their education being disrupted.
“I’m not sure that exclusion works in the way that we think that it needs to. Some schools swear by it – I’m fortunate enough that in my teaching career I did not have to exclude a child, but then I was in a small primary.
“My concern with exclusions is that children’s education suffers as a result of it, and I don’t think that is right. There have to be better alternatives, even if it is about keeping that child safe for themselves or for other children, we have to find a different way to ensure that their learning too is not interrupted.”
Under the work, which Bramble says aims to encourage schools to find other ways than exclusions to instil consequences for poor behaviour and boundaries in young people, children who might find a transition to secondary school more difficult are identified in Year 6. Once they know which school they will be attending in Year 7, a plan will be put together for the move, including additional induction days, mentoring groups and more liaison with families.
Those who continue to find it hard to settle once at secondary will also have access to a new intervention programme for Years 7 to 9 pupils at New Regent’s College, where young people would be educated for half a term while receiving enhanced support for the issues placing them at risk of exclusion, following which they return to their school.
A range of training is now in place for staff and governors to help build understanding for the underlying causes of poor behaviour, including around attachment, trauma, and speech, language and communication needs.
Former teacher Bramble added: “Overnight, that confidence, that rite of passage of finishing Year 6 and off to secondary school, then they are going to this place – some children adjust and are fine, but for others it’s quite a lot to deal with.
“Everything that they would have learnt in their primary school while they were at the top of the school – they have had years to embed all that learning, all of those social tools and acceptance. When you go off to that secondary school, it is a new system.
“You’ve gone from one teacher and classroom to several teachers and different classes, and if you are in sets you are in different learning groups. So you are managing lots of different relationships, lots of different context, and it is very rapid in a school day. How do we in that first year say, OK, exclusion is not the answer, let’s work back from that.”
Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville said recently that both he and Bramble both “feel very personally invested in what happens around exclusions”, with the borough leader revealing that it is the main issue along with school funding which features in his conversations with headteachers.
The Hackney Mayor added that the recent death of Tashaun Aird, whose murder followed an illegal expulsion from his school, gives him “an even greater passion to fix this once and for all”.
Glanville said: “Inevitably after a tragic incident, I would say sorry on behalf of the council and the system.
“The policy development and the thought behind how we work with our schools and families, how we connect the dots to reduce exclusions – there is some incredible work happening at Petchey, at Cardinal Pole, the City Academy chain is looking at how they work with young people in new ways – everyone is approaching it in the context of their own school.
“We say we’re a family of schools. We’ve had a decade and a half now of school improvement. We can’t afford to let down and exclude our young people and make sure we stop that, but if we do have to exclude a young person and move to an alternative setting, those settings should be the very best they can be.
“Our pupil referral unit at Nile Street is a £25m investment in the very best facilities in the borough, and making sure that if you are excluded, you don’t go to a lesser place. If you get excluded somewhere that feels ‘less than’, that compounds that exclusion. And we’d already taken the decisions three years ago to say that was unacceptable and invest that money in that provision
“We are listening to campaigners, parents and the system, and resolutely committed to fixing it, both in terms of what alternative provision looks like but also the whole system and investing in it in this year’s budget to make sure we have the resource to make that happen.”
Hackney’s work comes at the same time as local authorities move to tackle exclusionary practice in other London boroughs, with Islington recently passing a motion pledging to promote trauma-informed and respectful behaviour management in education, with councillors arguing that “the emotional impact of exclusion and in-school isolation” has replaced corporal punishment.
You can find more information on exclusions, including a guide for parents on the exclusion process and legal advice, here