Rejected, sad and afraid

What is the impact on young people of being excluded from
school? Sheila Lewis talks to young Londoners about their

School exclusions are on the rise again, according to latest
government figures. After falling for three years, the past two
years have seen an increase of nearly 15 per cent. Although local
education authorities are now expected to ensure that being
excluded from a school does not mean being excluded from an
education, it is an experience that is unlikely to improve a young
person’s prospects of success.

So how does it feel for those who find themselves on the wrong
side of the school fence?

Young people at Project Fresh Start, an education and employment
project for excluded young people based in north London, spoke
about what happened to them and how they see things now.

Craig, 16, was surprised and upset about being excluded. “I was
messing about with my mates and I threw a few chairs around in the
classroom, and I set fire to a piece of paper under my desk. I knew
that I’d put my classmates at risk but I didn’t expect
to get excluded. I felt that the teachers had targeted me. This
started when I was in year eight and nine and continued until I
finally got excluded in year 10. I was really sad about being
excluded, I felt upset that I couldn’t continue with my
education. Because I was getting older, getting a good education
was important to me. My mum was really upset when I got excluded
and even more so when they said that they were going to send me to
a special school for young people with behaviour problems. I
remember her saying: ‘I can’t take this.’ I think
she wanted me to be a good example for my younger brothers and
sisters. I felt sorry that I had put her though this and I also
felt sorry for myself. My mates were getting an education while I
was sitting at home doing nothing. Simply watching TV, what was I
going to learn from that? Nothing. I wanted to impress my mates.
They were all doing ‘bad’ things and I just joined in
with them. I wanted to fit in.

“I was excluded for eight months in total. When I was not at
school no one missed me, my mates didn’t seem that interested
in me anymore. When I returned I decided that I would change my
mates and my attitude. I noticed that that the teachers were more
supportive of me when I didn’t mess about. I felt like
I’d been given a second chance. I was happy. I felt like I
had turned my life around. Now I’m busy doing football
coaching for young people. My boss didn’t look at my CV and
say: ‘Oh, he used to throw chairs around at school.’
He’s given me a chance and that feels good.”

Fifteen-year-old Shyanne’s experience was different. She
has managed to keep in touch with her friends. She says: “When I
walk past my school and I see all of my friends in the playground I
don’t feel bad because I still see my friends so it still
feels like I’m at school. I don’t feel left out. Some
of my best friends are with me now at this project. In school, I
felt like I was on my own. It is difficult to talk with teachers.
If you have a true friend at school that’s good but most of
the time I felt alone. The reason why I stopped attending school
was because I felt that I wasn’t learning enough. I was
bored. I think schools have to try and make their lessons more
interesting. I have learned more about life by not going to

Mya, 15, has mixed feelings about being out of school. “I
don’t really miss school that much because it wasn’t
that much fun in school. Sometimes I do think about if I want to go
back to school. But at the moment I’m all right not being in

“When I was in school, I couldn’t talk to the teachers
when I was having problems with my school work because there are so
many children in the classroom. I felt embarrassed to ask for help
and I fell behind. I didn’t get enough help with my

“When I got excluded it happened so suddenly. I was involved
with a girl gang and we would mess around. I took the blame for
much of their behaviour. I had an argument with my head of year
about this and he asked to see my mum. He told her he would have to
exclude me from school. My mum also thought it was a good idea if I
was out of school.

“I was really angry because they didn’t listen to my side
of the story. I’m still upset now because my friends are busy
with their exams and I’m missing out on so much schoolwork.
When it’s time to get a job I’m not going to be at the
same level as other school leavers. Being out of school
doesn’t make me feel ‘dumb’, but I know that I
have missed a lot of schooling. I’ve been out of school for
six months. In the future there’ll be nowhere for me to turn.
I can’t say ‘Yeah I have this number of
qualifications’ because I don’t. I feel like I’ll
always be playing catch-up.”

Rosemarie, 15, arrived in Britain when she was 11. She was
bullied at school about her accent, and hated going.

“I’ve heard people say that I’m a drop-out from
school or that I’ve been kicked out but it doesn’t
matter to me because I know why I was excluded. Each morning I
would wake up for school and say to my mum: ‘I’m not
going to school today’, because I knew the girls that bullied
me would be there. I told the teachers and they didn’t do
anything. They’d just tell me what they thought I wanted to
hear. I felt low about myself, I used to go home and cut myself
with razors. I think some teachers should go back to training
school because they are not fit to be teachers.

“I don’t want to go back to school because I know that
I’m going to get bullied and I’d get into trouble
because I would defend myself. I think my troubles started when my
classmates used to mock my accent. It was difficult coming to a
British school at the age of 11. I had to try and fit in but it was
hard for me.

“I’m concerned about my future. When you go for a job they
are going to ask about your education and about your qualifications
What am I going to say? ‘Yeah I was out of education by year
9.’ Thanks to this project, I have gained a lot more
confidence in myself. If I was back in full-time education I would
feel like I was learning a lot more. If I went back to school, I
would expect the teachers to listen to me when I tell them about my

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