More children in ‘school-to-prison pipeline’

More than twice as many Bristol children were permanently excluded last year compared to the past two previous years. 

In the last academic year, 80 children were permanently excluded, 11 from primary schools and three from special schools. So far this year, 73 children have been permanently excluded, including five from primaries.

Two high schools were responsible for over a third of permanent exclusions last year, although a Bristol City Council report did not name which ones. Figures from the Department for Education will be published in the coming months on the number of exclusions per school.

Exclusion rates in Bristol are higher for ethnic minorities, particularly for children with Caribbean heritage or Gypsy, Roma and Traveller heritage. Being permanently excluded from school can often harm the life chances of children.

During a people scrutiny meeting on February 19, Labour deputy mayor Asher Craig, responsible for education, said: “This has been going on since I was a child. I don’t want to have to call [schools] out, but they are partly responsible for what I call the school-to-prison pipeline.

“I’m quite shocked about how many children we’re seeing excluded from primary school, that never used to be a thing at all. But now we’re seeing five-year-olds being excluded permanently.

“Let’s call it what it is — racism within the education system is why we’re seeing so many black kids being excluded. And it’s the same cycle. You can go back 20, 30 years and see the exact same figures. There’s a lot of work to be done and the schools have to be part of the solution.”

The number of permanent exclusions in Bristol dipped in recent years, before rising again. In 2016, there were 87 permanent exclusions and the council set up a panel to address the issue. The Bristol Inclusion Panel brought together high schools from across the city once a fortnight, to discuss children at risk of exclusion and find alternative options for them.

This led to permanent exclusions dropping massively, as many children were instead moved into other schools or alternative learning provision. But this meant some were not getting a full education, and allowed schools a route to too easily move difficult children elsewhere. A recent review then recommended major changes to the panel, and now exclusions have gone back up.

Mark Kennedy, from the council’s alternative learning provision hub, said: “There was a low permanent exclusion rate but significantly more children were being moved out of a full-time setting into a different setting. It was set up with the best intentions, but I don’t think necessarily what it’s done is to drive inclusive practices in schools. It’s just supported secondary schools to come to a panel and move children on somewhere else.

“My concern at the moment is that the use of part-time ALP is creating an environment where children are less likely to be able to permanently re-enter school.”

Early intervention is now planned to be offered in primary schools, to tackle issues before they escalate. 

Many schools are facing a staffing shortage with an “absolute crisis of recruitment and retention”, Labour Cllr Katja Hornchen, a supply teacher, said.

She said: “We are going months and terms without teachers in specific classes. For vulnerable children it’s hugely disruptive because they’ve usually got a thing of not trusting adults, and now they’re constantly having this stream of changing adults in front of the classroom telling them what to do. And that really sets them off.”

By Alex Seabrook, Local Democracy Reporting Service