Slippery slope?

Every autumn some newspapers publish school league tables so,
over our cornflakes and coffee, we can check that our children are
attending the “right” sort of school – one that tops the charts and
ticks the correct boxes. But what is not always obvious is that
schools desperate to move up the league tables often get rid of the
children who are not performing to standard or whose behaviour is
challenging and disruptive.

But the evidence shows that children who are excluded from school
are often set up to go down the slippery path to offending. The
Youth Justice Board’s 2004 Youth Survey, published in
July, revealed that 60 per cent of young people excluded from
school have offended.

This compares starkly with the 26 per cent of young people in
mainstream education who commit a crime. Excluding a child or young
person from school arguably contributes to the same disaffection
that can foster offending behaviour.

Robert Newman, head of education and training policy at the YJB,
says it is not just difficulties with their schooling that these
young people face.

“The sort of youngsters excluded from school don’t just have
education problems; they have a range of family and social
pressures that will contribute to them being excluded,” he

This point is reiterated by David Hawker, vice-chair of the
Association of Directors of Education and Children’s Services and
Brighton and Hove Council’s director of children’s services. He
says: “Both offending and school difficulties tend to be
symptomatic of other problems for children and their families.” Of
Brighton and Hove’s young offenders, as many as one-fifth have been
excluded from school.

Undoubtedly, exclusion is linked with poverty, low literacy levels
and overall social exclusion. While children from better off
backgrounds may only skip the odd class, it is often the most
disadvantaged pupils who find themselves permanently barred from
school. Mark Vaughan, founder and co-director of the Centre for
Studies on Inclusive Education, says there is a conflict of
interest within the school system. “Examination passes and league
tables are extremely attractive to people, but young people or
children who do not warm to these league tables are increasing in

It is when children and young people have time on their hands that
they are “drawn into difficult situations”, says Camilla
Batmanghelidjh, director of Kids Company, a south London-based
project that deals with children and young people excluded from
school. She says: “The primary reason young people are excluded is
because they can’t manage within the boundaries of the school’s
rules. This reason may also be the foundations for offending
behaviour.” In her experience, 95 per cent of young people offend
to meet their basic needs, such as to gain food and clothing,
rather than with the intention of becoming career criminals.

So do agencies working with young people realise that being
excluded from school can kick-start offending behaviour?
Batmanghelidjh often meets professionals who are aware of the link
but cannot admit it openly because acknowledging that the children
are vulnerable goes against the ethos of their organisation.

Hawker has a more positive take on the situation. He cites the
YJB’s requirement for youth offending teams – which are
multidisciplinary – to develop better working arrangements with
local education authorities for children without a school place or
whose placement is breaking down. “Most LEAs are developing better
information and tracking systems which improve action times for
those children without satisfactory education,” he says.

Do schools intervene quickly enough before they exclude a young
person? Hawker says that as schools start to interact more with
YOTs, youth inclusion projects and youth inclusion and support
panels, intervention is starting to happen earlier. “There is a
better chance of professionals talking to each other about the
risks for an individual young person and taking account of them in
their planning.”

Whether a school intervenes early depends on the attitude of its
head teacher. Some schools are involved in the YJB’s safer schools
partnership programme to police schools more effectively. Under
this, a police officer is based in the school to help to identify
potential young offenders. But this sort of preventive work is not
common practice, says Batmanghelidjh. “We still have a culture of
care being delivered when there is a threat to a young person. We
don’t carry out preventive work because we are still very focused
on intervening when the risks are identified.”

So what should be done to address this problem? Vaughan suggests
that schools review their culture and working practices. To help
them to do this, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education
developed the index on inclusion, which was adopted by all schools
in England in 2000 and by all schools in Wales in 2002.

But Batmanghelidjh calls for a new rule that says a school cannot
exclude a child and remove her or him from its premises without a
meeting of professionals taking place. She says: “Social services,
health and education should come to the table together to make
clear decisions about a child’s future.”

Good practice in Romford

While, for some, Romford, Essex, is synonymous with boy racers,
one local project has been using four wheels to reach excluded
young people.  

Since 1998, Motorvations has worked with 13 to 18 year olds who
have been permanently excluded from school or who attend school
part time on flexi-learning programmes. Open during school hours
over the academic year, Motorvations teaches young people
mechanical skills and offers five accredited training courses
leading to a qualification. It employs two basic skills tutors from
the local education authority and runs several educational
programmes ranging from sexual health to drug awareness and

Between 50 and 60 young people from the boroughs of Havering and
Barking and Dagenham attend the scheme during the day each

Chris Lee has been the development manager for Motorvations for
the past three years and has worked at the scheme since 1999. He
says the young people often lack structure in their lives because
they are out of school and this increases the risk of

“Having somewhere to go like Motorvations gives them something
to do and to focus on,” he says. Young people can attend
Motorvations for up to two academic years, and the scheme tracks
their progress after they leave. 

Motorvations also works with young offenders. It operates an
evening group for young people referred by the youth offending team
as part of their community order. Lee says the project works hard
to identify the “pitfalls” of their offending behaviour. “If
someone steals a car it is as bad as breaking into a house and we
let them know that,” he says. 

Lee says the scheme is successful because the young people are
taught in a different environment from that in traditional schools
and gain skills to help them find a job. “We’ve had young people
come back and show us their first pay slip.”

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