Such was the disparity Prime Minister Theresa
May highlighted at her Party Conference speech in 2016. Twenty years of
official statistics further support this. As the rising focus on racial
injustice is boldly highlighting, exclusion is just one example of bias in
policy, practice and perspective impacting the daily lives of BAME children and
young people in the UK.
School exclusion tends to signify a breakdown
in relationship between the school and student. It signifies a definitive
ending to other disciplinary procedures. Between 1998 and 2001, the number of black
students excluded actually fell dramatically. Within the last decade, there have been
periods in which the number of Black students given temporary exclusions have dropped.
These changes have occurred when the government have been determined to reduce
the overall numbers of exclusions (without taking ethnicity as a factor), with
schools particularly encouraged to use other disciplinary measures.
Yet, since 2007 there has been a consistent rise
in the number of black students being excluded. Most worrying is the prevalence of
over-exclusion in these circumstances. Data from the National Pupil
Database showed the over-exclusion of black children persisted from the
earliest stages of their education, with rates of exclusion for black children being significantly higher
than their White counterparts. Furthermore, the Timpson Review commissioned by
the Department for Education found a number of students were excluded during their final years of
compulsory education. Exclusions can have a detrimental impact on educational
attainment and students who are excluded are less likely to finish school with
good GCSEs. Additionally, there is a direct
correlation between exclusions and youth crime.
Many have attributed this trend to be as a
result of constant stereotyping and unconscious bias. Put simply, despite the
common presence of good natured intentions and lack of conscious awareness of
the discriminatory effect, schools have fixed cultural norms that exclude
minorities and result in some teachers having preconceived notions of how a
black student behaves.
David Lammy famously asked, ‘What then, can be
done?’. As society seemingly makes progress collectively uncovering bias in our
institutions and structures, what positive measures can we take to address this
Firstly, targeted action is required from the
government. History has shown that when the government attempts to make a concerted
effort to reduce exclusions, it can. Acknowledging the racial bias in exclusion
measures clearly present in schools is a first step to creating policy and
practice solutions which can address the disparity.
Secondly, Ofsted can be a key player in
reforming our educational system. In March 2016, a report produced by the
Society for Educational Studies found the importance of racial equality in
schools to have lessened based on Ofsted’s shift in focus. This clearly needs
to be addressed if progress is to be made.
Lastly, we need to ensure that teachers receive
appropriate training in relation to unconscious bias. Teachers play a key role
in shaping the educational institutions they are part of. Uncovering and
addressing unconscious bias is a first step in equipping education staff with
the tools to dismantle and overcome these obstacles.
In my own experience, I reflect on what I have witnessed with my friends. I can see how, after being excluded, they fell into a life of crime, and wonder how different things could have been had schools provided extra support and identified the needs of black children who were more likely to be excluded. In these and many other cases, it is far too easy to determine these increases in exclusion rates to be a result of a zero-tolerance policy, through which black students are disproportionately affected. With many institutions having to review the way they operate that could be discriminatory toward BAME people, it is imperative the government establishes an independent commission to look into the racial and ethnic disparities at play and seek to understand why such disparities exist in exclusion rates.
JPIT have commissioned a series of blogs exploring racial justice, particularly at its intersection with other issues of justice and peace. To see other blogs in this series, click here.