Excluding a pupil may make your life easier, but the consequences for children are severe EMMA TONNY E xclusions in primary schools have a marked impact on our children’s futures. Students excluded in primary school have a far more challenging time transitioning into mainstream schools later on. Those excluded throughout their school experience have far lower rates of permanent employment and far higher rates of criminal convictions. To begin with, let me clear up a common misconception. There are different kinds of exclusions that students can be given. Too often, when you read about them, permanent exclusions are often made to sound like the only kind. Permanent exclusions are the most severe, where a child is taken off a school’s roll and can no longer attend, but they are also the rarest kind. Given that they are the rarest, it is perhaps even more shocking that in 2017/18 there were 7,900 permanent exclusions from schools in England – a 70% increase since 2012/13. So, what happens to these children once they are permanently excluded? Life in a PRU Once children are permanently excluded they go to a pupil referral unit (PRU). The main problem with a PRU is that it only has children who have behavioural challenges. Due to this, the staff’s time is really only taken up with behaviour management – not with learning. I have spent a disproportionate amount of time doing arts and crafts with primary school children sent to a PRU. There’s a point at which ‘mindfulness’ only goes so far, and you do actually need to learn something. Arts and crafts becomes the new norm, and English and maths lessons a distant memory. I don’t deny for a second that children in PRUs, of any age, can be absolute nightmares. There’s no point dressing that up. They will threaten (or enact) violence, tell you they hate you, and absolutely refuse to do any work. But they’re human. It’s an obvious point but it has to be remembered. From the point of exclusion in primary school onwards they’re treated as an inconvenience. Those that work with these children must have the patience of a saint; however awful they may be to you it’s crucial to ensure they are listened to and feel safe. They need the very best teachers to turn the situation around. And yet, students in PRUs are Last RESORT twice as likely to be supported by unqualified staff. Many children referred to PRUs in primary school have serious problems around attachment. They will try everything possible to push you away because they’re simply so used to being hurt or left that they don’t want to let anyone close. That can be really hard to remember when you’re exhausted and have been nothing but nice to them, but perseverance pays off. It can take months to build a bond with many of these children but I’ve seen first-hand how incredible it is when that’s achieved. If a child has been excluded then they often have an incredibly complex range of needs. It is worth noting that students with SEN are far more likely to be excluded than their peers. This is particularly the case for students with ADHD – 39% of young people who have ADHD have fixed term exclusions. The other side However, the picture can often be painted to depict students as innocent victims of an unfair system. This is very far from always being the case. I have had students come at me with scissors, punch walls, attempt to climb through windows… the list goes on. Sometimes, students are such a risk to themselves and others that a mainstream school simply won’t work for them. They need a smaller ratio of teaching staff to have the supervision they need for safeguarding reasons. Aside from the needs of these individual students, there is the wider impact their behaviour has on learning of other students. A constant battle I face is between knowing full well that keeping a child in mainstream school is the best thing for them, versus acknowledging that they are making learning almost impossible for others. If you have a primary school child flipping tables and swearing at the teacher then others are not able to learn and, perhaps more importantly, are scarred by the experience. The latest DfE figures reveal that 62 Y1 children and 163 Y2 pupils were in PRUs in 2018, rising to 454 in Y6. Those figures sound shocking, but the challenges that teachers (and fellow students) are facing is very real. What can we do? First and foremost, it comes down to investment. At the 28 | “I don’t deny for a second that children inPRUs, of any age, can be absolute nightmares”