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We need to talk about suspensions and exclusions....


There is a daily survey of teachers' views across the country called "Teacher tapp". Thousands of us answer a small number of questions each day at 3.30pm and it gives a very useful snapshot of the views within the education system (https://teachertapp.co.uk/). Last week there was a summary of the views of senior leaders in schools which identified what we all know to be true - that the decision to suspend or exclude a child from school is one that sits heavily on many headteachers. I quote from the Teacher TAPP blog (https://teachertapp.co.uk/articles/leadership-regrets-intentions-and-inset-days/)


"Many of these are very sad to read and reflect the difficulty in accommodating vulnerable pupils with complex needs with limited budgets for support. One primary head sums up the situation as follows: “Having to make the decision to suspend a child – which wouldn’t have happened if children with additional and/or undiagnosed needs were given the support by our LA sooner – it’s a constant and unnecessary battle, which is failing many of our children at the start of their schooling experience.


I know this from experience - it is the decision to deny a child access to a school community, whether temporarily or permanently, that keeps a headteacher awake at night.


And then there is a report and article in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago which tells us what we already know from experience in schools - suspensions and exclusions most adversely affect the most disadvantaged children and communities... https://www.theguardian.com/education/2023/sep/13/school-suspensions-rise-sharply-among-disadvantaged-children-in-england


Yet I am not arguing that we should not suspend or exclude young people from schools - school leaders have a duty to keep everyone safe and we cannot be tolerant of aggression or violence. Indeed, those who are most vulnerable benefit most from calm and good order in our schools. Since returning to school after the pandemic poor behaviour in schools (refusal to comply, aggression...) has increased and it is necessary to say that some behaviours are not acceptable in a civilised community.


But it is complex. It is vital to find common ground between families and schools and communities in these situations. A child with SEND may lash out because they are goaded or bullied; a vulnerable child behaves aggressively as a response to the noise and over-stimulus of the school playground; a child reacts inappropriately because their mental health is poor, or because they are exhausted from living in a chaotic household where they get no rest, or from having to care for younger siblings or indeed to physically care for their parents. We have a duty to find a way forward for these children - a simplistic "their behaviour is not acceptable" response doesn't cut it. But it isn't easy - if your child has been hit hard by another student who is having a meltdown then it is hard to be sympathetic. "Isolation" within the school is often said to be a better alternative, but there are serious issues about the negative impact of this on a child's mental health. Suspension has the benefit of directly involving the family, as the child is not in school, but what does that mean for the safeguarding of the child?


Anyone who thinks they have a simple answer to these issues has not thought hard enough about the problem - but think about it we must and we must find common ground in the interests of all our young people.

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