Poorer children in Doncaster more than three times more likely to be excluded

Exclusion rates for school children from poor families in Doncaster are more than three times higher than those for their peers from better-off households, figures reveal.

Wednesday, 4th August 2021, 2:35 pm

Children are getting into trouble because their families cannot afford uniform and equipment, or are struggling to cope without food or at-home heating, says charity Just for Kids Law, which is calling for reform of a “deeply flawed” exclusions system.

Figures from the Department for Education show schools in Doncaster excluded students eligible for free school meals 3,070 times during the 2019-20 academic year – 24 were permanent and 3,046 temporary.

It meant there were 32 exclusions for every 100 children entitled to the meals – a measure for children from poorer households.

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Schools in Doncaster excluded students eligible for free school meals 3,070 times

This was more than three times higher than the rate for children not eligible for free school meals, which was 8.7 per cent.

The figures cover the 124 state-funded secondary, primary and special schools in Doncaster.

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It was a similar picture across England, with the exclusion rate for children from poorer households at 9.5 per cent, compared to 2.6 per cent for those from better-off families.

Just for Kids Law, which provides help to families on legal processes, said exclusions worsened the situation for disadvantaged children, putting them further behind on their education and potentially leading them into crime.

Louise King, director of policy and campaigns, said: "Too often we see children who have been excluded because of circumstances beyond their control – that includes children whose families have struggled to pay for the correct uniform and equipment, who have faced racial discrimination, and who are coping with the impact of going without essentials like food and heating.

"This can leave children feeling like they’ve been treated unfairly, pushing them further away from school and their learning."

She said the Government needed to provide better financial support to families, put in place behavioural support in schools and give children an opportunity to challenge "unfair decisions" on exclusions.

"The Government needs to urgently reform the deeply flawed school exclusions system," she added.

The National Association for Headteachers said schools were finding it "increasingly hard" to access support for vulnerable pupils, partly because of funding cuts to services such as behaviour support teams.

It said the Government needed to fund support of specialist services to meet every child’s needs.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary at the union, said: "Schools play a vital role in supporting children in this area but they can’t do it on their own."

Overall, Doncaster schools excluded pupils 6,344 times in 2019-20 – 48 of which were permanent, and 6,296 temporary.

The figures for the academic year are not comparable to the previous year due to school closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

However, in the autumn term, before schools were closed as part of a national lockdown, there were 3,502 exclusions, up from 3,249 in the same term of the 2018-19 academic year.

Guidance from the Department for Education states schools must not discriminate against pupils when deciding on an exclusion and should take into account any contributing factors.

A spokesperson said: “Our guidance for schools is clear that staff should consider any underlying causes of poor behaviour before taking the decision to permanently exclude, and these decisions must be lawful, reasonable and fair."

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Liam Hoden, editor.