Tashaûn Aird
Unlawfully expelled by his school: Fifteen-year-old Tashaûn Aird was stabbed to death by attackers who had wrongly identified him as a member of a rival gang. Photograph: Metropolitan Police

The devastating repercussions of school exclusion in Hackney were revealed by pupils who said they were cut off from friends and learning as councillors said more must be done to prevent exclusion.

One student who was excluded from school told Hackney’s children and young people’s scrutiny commission:  “I was crying as I was so upset. I was upset at not being able to see my friends any more, not being in contact with them, not being able to learn anything.’”

The commission found that rates of permanent and fixed exclusion from Hackney secondary schools  remained consistently above both national and regional averages between 2010-2019.

One parent who was the sole breadwinner  revealed what it entailed: ” I had to reduce my hours all the time” to support their child and pick up the pieces.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) estimates that exclusion can cost £370,000 throughout the life of an excluded child who may need extra help with education, training, unemployment, healthcare and the costs of  criminal justice .

Scrutiny commission chair, Cllr Sophie Conway,  said: “The outcomes for children who are excluded are significantly worse than their peers who remain in mainstream education.”

She said: “Early intervention does work.”

She warned: “These poor outcomes can include significantly lower educational attainment, increased likelihood of not being in education, employment, or training upon leaving formal education, being a victim of criminal exploitation, entering the criminal justice system and being imprisoned as adults.”

She said: “The evidence also shows that some children are significantly more likely to be excluded from school – boys, children from black and mixed heritage backgrounds, children from travelling backgrounds, children with special educational needs, children in receipt of free school meals, children from single parent families and looked-after children.”

She highlighted the impact of exclusion on 15-year-old Tashaûn Aird, who died after he was stabbed in May 2019. A serious case review (SCR) found his permanent exclusion exposed him “to a new, more challenging environment”.

Cllr Conway said: “The tragic death of this 15-year-old boy, the SCR into his death and its multiple references to the impact of his exclusion from school serves as a sobering example of how permanent exclusion from school can increase a child’s risk of being victim of crime and criminal exploitation – and the potentially devastating consequences of this.”

The scrutiny commission’s report found that Black Caribbean children were disproportionately more likely to be excluded from school in Hackney – making up 38 per cent of permanent exclusions in 2017-18, despite only making up 10 per cent of the school population.

The council said any bias in exclusions must be tackled.

The report said: “Of particular concern in Hackney is the rate at which young people of Black Caribbean ethnic origin are permanently excluded from school, as this is not only higher than other ethnic groups but has also been increasing when national and regional rates have been declining.”

Hackney’s cabinet member for education Anntoinette Bramble said more work is needed ” to work even more intensively to continue to tackle all forms of bias” as the report found Black Caribbean  children were more likely to be excluded from school.

“We commit to further developing our anti-racist action plan, especially in education, in order to accelerate the scale and pace of our work, but also to thinking more progressively too.”

Overall in Hackney, boys are more likely than girls to be excluded – which is the same picture nationally.

However  permanent and fixed term exclusions peak at 13 years old – earlier than the national and regional average of 14.

The report said the number of permanent exclusions are “relatively low”.

Young people told them of their “shock, surprise and confusion”  when they were permanently excluded and did not understand they were at risk.

The most common reason for permanent exclusion in 2017-18 was persistent disruptive behaviour – in 31 per cent of the cases.

During the same time  63 per cent of excluded children had a diagnosed SEND and  60 per cent were assessed to have social, emotional and mental health needs.

One parent of a child with SEND said: “If children are being excluded for the same thing every time, this is a failure of the school and the system to support him properly.”

Cllr Bramble said the council is developing a  new SEND strategy to support children in mainstream schools and provide “significantly more” specialist school places.”

The report also highlighted that 61 per cent of  permanently excluded  pupils had already  moved school one or more times.

36 per cent  of those children permanently excluded in 2017-18 were known to the Integrated Gangs  Unit (IGU) but the council said it was not clear from the data whether this contributed to the exclusion, or followed it.

The council’s IGU works to help young people involved in gang violence or those on the periphery of gangs through a variety measures, including prevention, diversion and, if needed, enforcement.

Pupils aged 13 to 17 spoke to the commission and called for more support to prevent things going wrong.

One said: “A counsellor can help show you the way, talk you through things showing you where you are going wrong and how you can improve to prevent you from being excluded.”

Pupils said they can be isolated for a range of issues, “the wrong hair colour, if it’s not your natural hair colour. You can also get isolation for jewellery and the type of shoes you wear.”

One pupil said: “Sometimes some institutions are so hellbent on their rules and they squeeze you for any reason.”

Cllr  Bramble said: “It is unacceptable that exclusion rates at Hackney secondary schools are still significantly higher than national averages and similar London boroughs, and we must collectively do more. Our ethos is to ‘work for every child’, and our focus must be to ensure that we deliver and improve the support and outcomes for our most vulnerable young people.”

She said: “Some of our most vulnerable children have a very difficult journey around the time of or after an exclusion. We need to do better.”

The report highlighted the “relatively high exclusion rates at secondary level” .

Cllr Bramble said  “it is clear collectively we are not doing enough to support children at risk of exclusion, nor to prevent permanent exclusions”.

She acknowledged that the council did not always ensure there was the right support if pupils are excluded, including helping them get back  into mainstream education if possible.

She said there needs to be a “collegiate effort” to get it right.

Cllr Bramble said the council opened a new site for the pupil referral unit, New Regent’s College, earlier this year.  Ofsted rated it as “good” this year and Cllr Bramble said: “It and is an emerging example of how well pupils can do when given the dedicated support.”

It also has a “no need to exclude policy” which emphasises that permanent exclusion should only be taken as a last resort” in response to a serious or persistent breaches of the school’s behaviour policy, and where allowing the children to remain would harm the welfare of pupils in the school.”

According to the report, schools should explore other options first, including giving pupils a  key worker/ or learning mentor, using a restorative justice intervention, referring them to a multi-agency panel or alternative provision panel and considering a managed school move.

More information on school exclusions is available here.