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The exclusion epidemic that won't go away

OUTSPOKEN: Gus John, left, and Ray Lewis

BLACK CARRIBEAN boys are three times more likely to be excluded from state schools than their classmates, a study has found.

The Children’s Commission report, They Go The Extra Mile, published on March 20, established an “unacceptably high correlation” between exclusion and male pupils, those with special education needs and children on free school meals.

Four main ethnic groups – Roma gypsy travellers, travellers of Irish heritage, black Caribbean and mixed white/black Caribbean – were also deemed most at risk.

It means a Black Caribbean boy from a low-income family with mild special educational needs (SEN) is 168 times more likely to be excluded than a white girl from an affluent family.

John Connolly, the commission’s principal policy advisor on education, told The Voice that a significant number of schools were unaware of their legal responsibility to provide for black and other minority ethnic children who may be struggling in the classroom.

“What we have found, by and large, is that schools are not aware of their duty under the equality law to examine what they’re doing, and make sure, proactively, that it doesn’t discriminate, directly or indirectly,” he said.

“Some of them are aware of it in regards to special needs, but we’ve not found any evidence of people doing it on the basis of gender or race.

“That may have unintended consequences; we would strongly welcome the Government helping schools do better at this, because at the minute [underperforming schools] show no signs of actually doing it.”

Under the 2010 Equalities Act, institutions and employers are banned from unfair treatment and seeks to achieve equal opportunity for all in wider society.

Gus John, an associate professor of education at the University of London, welcomed the commission's report. "I agree with the findings," he told The Voice.

"Although the race relations act came into law in 2001, schools never demonstrated an equity and fairness of how students are treated."

The professor said not all blame can be pinned on the school. "For many years there has been a general labelling of black boys, and there is a serious issue here that needs a rounded and more radical approach.

"There needs to be a way for schools to demonstrate how they are keeping children in school," he added.

"If I had any power, I would abolish school exclusions completely. Britain excludes more children than other countries in western Europe."

Connolly said that the study did not identify “any evidence of institutional racism in schools”, but found black boys were affected by strict rules on hairstyles unfairly as they are more likely to wear corn rows.

Ray Lewis, founder of the Eastside Academy and senior mentoring adviser to the Mayor of London said: “There remains a stubbornly high number of boys [from the African diaspora] who, for a host of reasons, continue to struggle in the mainstream.

“In my opinion, this supports the notion that one size does not fit all and is a great argument for free schools and the innovation and targeted support they provide.”

The report was based on 2010/11 figures from the Department for Education (DfE) and covers every state school in the country. The investigation also looked at best practices, identifying the methods of schools proving successful in accommodating a diverse pupil population.

Maggie Atkinson, Children’s Commissioner for England said: “The single most important thing that a school can do is realise that including all children in the life of the school is part of their core purpose.

“It is not, as some schools see it, an ‘optional extra’. The best schools realise this and go the extra mile to do it.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “The Commissioner's report makes clear that inequalities in school exclusions are complex and longstanding issues.

“We are overhauling the Special Educational Needs system and making radical improvements to alternative provision so that children at risk of exclusion get the right support at the right time.”

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