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Anne Longfield’s Commission on Young Lives calls for end to ‘exclusions culture’ as part of a new era of inclusive education to tackle scourge of teenage violence and exploitation

Anne Longfield

Anne Longfield’s Commission on Young Lives calls for an end to ‘exclusions culture’ as part of a new era of inclusive education to tackle the scourge of teenage violence and exploitation and help all children to succeed at school

  • Commission’s report into the school system calls for new measures to reduce the number of children falling out of school and tackle the culture of exclusion – including a ban on primary school exclusions from 2026, greater incentives for secondary schools to reduce exclusions, and for all schools to report annually on the number of children who have been excluded or moved from the school roll    
  • Report shows how being out of school puts teenagers at increased risk of exploitation, serious violence and becoming involved in the criminal justice system    
  • Commission on Young Lives recommends no school should receive a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ Ofsted rating without reaching a new inclusion measurement, and for school league tables to include a ‘pupil wellbeing’ measurement alongside exam scores    
  • Report calls for ‘Alternative Provision’ to be renamed ‘Specialist Provision’ and for ‘Pupil Referral Units’ to be scrapped    
  • Commission proposes a five-year pilot to grow new inclusive schools, trialling new ‘cradle to career’ community schools in 55 education investment areas as part of the Government’s levelling-up strategy    
  • Report shows how Black children are more likely to be excluded and can face ‘adultification’ at school, and proposes making race-equality training a core part of teacher training and reforming the school curriculum to make it more inclusive    

Anne Longfield, Chair of the Commission on Young Lives, is today publishing the Commission’s third thematic report, All Together Now: Inclusion not exclusion – supporting all young people to succeed in school’. The report looks at how thousands of vulnerable children are falling through gaps in the education system, putting them at risk not only of low attainment but also serious violence, county lines, criminal exploitation, grooming and harm. It calls for a new era of incentivising all schools to become more inclusive and makes a series of recommendations for how schools can be supported to divert vulnerable teenagers away from crime and exploitation and enable them to thrive.

The report highlights the disadvantages and dangers that falling out of school can have on some young people and highlights the scale of the challenge facing the education system, including:

  • The high number of children in England excluded from school. (The Commission met with one mother whose five-year-old was excluded 17 times in a year).
  • Thousands of children who are persistently absent from school.
  • Alternative Provision that is failing to provide many children with a good education or to keep them safe.
  • A SEND system that is not meeting the needs of many vulnerable children.
  • A school inspections system that does not value inclusion and can offer perverse incentives for some schools to remove children from their school roll.
  • The disproportionate number of Black children who are not attending school or are excluded from school.

The Commission’s report looks at how thousands of children are leaving school without good qualifications, but also at the culture of exclusions that has grown in recent years.

  • The number of children excluded from school rose by 5% in the autumn of 2019 compared to the same period the previous year
  • Permanent exclusion figures have seen a gradual rise from 5,082 in 2010/11 to 7,894 in 2018/19, before Covid.
  • Even for the Covid-affected year of 2019/20, 5,057 children in England were permanently excluded.
  • Across a 10-year span, from 2010-2020, children aged 12, 13 and 14 consistently have the highest numbers of exclusions. These are often the children most at risk of becoming involved with the criminal justice system.

Recent research by the DfE and MoJ has highlighted how one in five (22%) of children that had ever been permanently excluded were also cautioned or sentenced for a serious violence offence. 59% of children that had ever been permanently excluded were also cautioned or sentenced for an offence. The Commission has also taken evidence from school leaders and youth workers about some of the ruthless methods criminal gangs are using to drive a wedge between vulnerable children and schools, such as encouraging them to become permanently excluded for taking drugs or weapons to school, or for violent behaviour.

The report also highlights the poor outcomes for children who are moved into Alternative Provision. Just 4% of pupils in AP passed English and Maths at GCSE, compared to 64% in mainstream.

‘All Together Now’ makes recommendations to challenge the culture of exclusion and encourage a more inclusive education system, holding schools accountable for excluding or moving children off the school role, but also providing them with the support and resource they need to keep children in school. While many schools have inclusion and nurture at the heart of their school ethos, many school leaders feel the system discourages them from inclusivity and nurture. The report calls for a trauma-responsive, inclusive, community-led continuous education system that provides support to all children, from cradle to career and ensures every child receives the good education.

Its proposals include:

  • A ban on primary school exclusions from 2026, alongside support and resources for schools to provide specialist provision that keeps children on the school roll.
  • Removal of a child from secondary school becomes a genuine last resort, and is only possible following a programme of support and when it is signed off by the CEO of an academy school or MAT, or the DCS in a local authority school.
  • A new requirement for every school to publish their inclusive ‘education for all’ strategy and report annually on the number of children who have been excluded or moved from the school roll.
  • A new national team of regional development advisors to work with schools, local authorities and health agencies to support the implementation of inclusive schools in every area.
  • A new transitional fund to pump prime local authority area wide inclusion strategies and support packages for schools including therapeutic support, educational psychologists, family workers, youth workers and mental health support.
  • School league tables to include an agreed measurement of pupil wellbeing alongside exam results.
  • A new inclusion measure to be introduced by Ofsted, as a key measure to inform judgement. No school should achieve good or outstanding without meeting the inclusion measurement.
  • Alternative provision is renamed ‘specialist provision’ and is available to support struggling pupils to progress with their learning in school. The use of the label ‘Pupil Referral Unit’ is scrapped.
  • A levy on tech companies to fund Specialist Creative Programmes backed and designed in partnership with the creative industries to run in schools and specialist schools.    
  • A five-year pilot that trials new community schools in each of the 55 education investment areas announced as part of the Government’s levelling up strategy.
  • Teams of youth and community workers in all schools to build relationships and support young people, and a key role for school-based family workers, working alongside and as part of the supporting families’ teams and liaising with children’s centres, family hubs and children’s services.
  • Workforce strategies implemented to increase the number of Black teachers in classrooms and in leadership roles. Race-equality training should be a core aspect of all teacher training and should be included as a core module at the new Teacher Training Institute.

Anne Longfield, Chair of the Commission on Young Lives, said:

“Look behind the headlines of the tragic deaths, acts of serious violence and criminal exploitation of our young people over recent years and so often you see a pattern of children disengaging and falling out of school and into harm. Not all children who leave mainstream school will be affected, but the statistics show that too many will – even more so if the child has Special Educational Needs or is Black. These are the young people at the sharp end of an education system which has not always prioritised the needs of vulnerable children, and one that I believe could and should be transformed to ensure all children can succeed.

“We should celebrate the excellent outcomes our education system provides for most children, while being determined to change the fact that thousands of children in England are leaving school without good qualifications or are falling through gaps in the education system, putting them at greater risk of danger.

“A system that has no real accountability for a five-year-old boy being excluded 17 times in a year, or where a vulnerable teenager is out of school for months or even years, is not a system that is working for every child.

“Over recent years, we have seen the growth of an exclusions culture that perversely rewards removing some vulnerable children from school roll. That must not continue. We need a new culture of inclusion and accountability, that recognises and rewards nurture and which sticks with children and families from cradle to career.

“This does not mean that our ambitions for academic achievement and high standards of behaviour should be lowered – far from it. Our ambition must be for all children to feel learning and achievement is for them, and to feel school is somewhere that they want to be.

“Inclusive schools and college around the country are already showing how it can be done. They are an anchor in the community, offering families and children the support they need to do well. But too often they are the exception because the system does not provide schools with the direction, support, and resources needed to deliver for every child. The Government’s Education White Paper and SEND Green Paper are a welcome change of direction towards this more inclusive system, though not yet with the necessary financial support.

“High aspiration, high standards and high expectations should always go alongside a sense of responsibility for all children. We should never be content with an education system that too often provides those who want to exploit children with a conveyor belt of vulnerable teenagers. An inclusive education system is a key weapon in our battle against them.”

Rev. Steve Chalke, founder of Oasis, which hosts the Commission on Young Lives, and runs 52 academy schools across England said:

“Our society will not flourish until we provide safe and inclusive education for all children and young people. Without it, not only will it be impossible to end the epidemic of teenage violence and exploitation, but we will never create equity of opportunity for every child. This is why Oasis hosts the Commission on Young Lives, and why we work, through our schools and youth work, for the inclusion of every child, every day.”

Read the full report here:

Sector Response

Julie McCulloch, Director of Policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“We welcome this important report from Anne Longfield’s Commission on Young Lives and we fully support the drive towards a new era of inclusive education. While the power to exclude a student is a necessary last resort to protect the safety and wellbeing of other students and staff, it is very clear we must do everything possible to defuse problems which lead to challenging behaviour and keep young people in school.

“This is already a top priority for the vast majority of schools. They monitor and scrutinise exclusions very carefully. But they have to do this in a context of extremely tight budgets which restrict their capacity to provide pastoral and specialist support, and against a background of severe cuts to local authority support services.

“It is also the case that school performance tables prioritise academic attainment rather than how well a school provides an inclusive environment.

“All this must change. The government must ensure that schools have the resources they need to keep children in school and to provide targeted support to enable every child to thrive, and performance tables must change to give a more complete picture of a school rather than focusing on academic achievement alone. We have set out our own proposals to achieve these objectives in our Blueprint for a Fairer Education System.

“These are the building blocks that are needed to achieve the objective set out in the report of an inclusive, supportive culture for all children in all schools, with a vastly reduced number of school exclusions and extensive and targeted support for the small number of pupils for whom a school move is the right approach. What is required from the government is a clear vision, a plan and sufficient levels of funding to make this possible.”

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