Exclusion – A Symptom not a Cause of Knife Crime

Exclusion – A Symptom not a Cause of Knife Crime

‘Broken’ school exclusion system linked to knife crime surge, police chiefs warn Theresa May” (Independent)

This warning was also supported by Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, but can it really be true that school exclusions cause knife crime?

Well the simple answer is no – school exclusions do not cause knife crime. I have been busy on Twitter this week to make that point.

Permanent exclusion is a symptom of a young person who, despite all the support a school will provide, is unable to function within acceptable boundaries and social norms of behaviour. Is it a surprise that individuals in this position are more likely to go on and behave beyond the acceptable boundaries and social norms of behaviour – no it isn’t. This is a correlation NOT a cause.

The Ministry of Justice last year found that although young people caught carrying a knife were more likely to fail at school or be persistently absent, only a “very small proportion” committed their offence shortly after being excluded.

Many of us may have been a little surprised to see Ofsted joining the debate but their assessment that they had seen “no convincing evidence that exclusions, in and of themselves, lead to knife crime or gang violence” is to be welcomed.

It was also pleasing that Damien Hinds, the Education Secretary, came forward to refute this claim insisting there is no “causal link” between exclusions and knife crime. Mary Bousted, of the NEU, said similar. The Education Secretary has criticised suggestions that schools are to blame for a rise in knife crime and insisted there was no “causal link” between exclusions and knife crime. In a column for The Times, Damian Hinds backed the right of head teachers to remove pupils permanently from their schools saying that by the time a child is excluded, many have already been in serious trouble, and other pupils have the right to be educated in safety, he said. “It is right that a school has the ability to permanently exclude when that last resort is needed. Pupils need to know where they stand and who is in charge,” he said.

We need to see Permanent Exclusion as a clear indicator that a young person may already well be on a pathway that could lead to criminality, gang membership and potentially knife crime. However, the answer is not to stop schools from excluding children. Schools must be able to retain permanent exclusions as an option, if they deem it necessary. The answer is to ensure that the young people in this position receive the support they need to become the positive citizens we hope all young people will become.

We have to remember that a school’s core function is to educate our children academically, morally and socially. Far too often in these debates the massive majority of students who want to be at school, do well and be positive members of our society, are forgotten. These children should not come to school fearing physical or verbal abuse, they should not go to lessons only for their learning to be persistently disrupted. It is worth reminding ourselves of the current statutory guidance in this regard:

“A decision to exclude a pupil permanently should only be taken:

  • in response to a serious breach or persistent breaches of the school’s behaviour policy; and
  • where allowing the pupil to remain in school would seriously harm the education or welfare of the pupil or others in the school.”

In my experience, head teachers take these decisions very seriously. However, we have to ask ourselves what message we are sending as a society if we do not exclude a student who would seriously harm the education or welfare of the pupil or others in the school. We have a responsibility to keep children safe in our schools.

So, where it is appropriate and the school has exhausted all other measures, I will continue to support our head teachers when they make the decision to exclude a student. Exclusion has to be understood as a symptom of possible, even probable, future anti-social behaviour. However, it is not the cause of such behaviour.

The causes of knife crime are complex and as Tom Bennett, a government behaviour adviser, says, they are “hard to solve easily”. We need to avoid confusing simplistic correlations with a complex multi-causal problem. The problem of knife crime is far too serious to be solved by simple inaccurate sound bites.