Over 2,000 pupils are excluded from school every day in England. Most excluded pupils are from BAME background. Almost all of them are recruited by gang and drug dealers following their exclusion. There is a clear link between school exclusions and the increase in violent crimes including knife crimes in England.
In March 2018, Edward Timpson was commissioned to review school exclusion in England by the Secretary of State for Education. His review which was published in May 2019 discovered that 2,000 children are excluded from school in England every day.
According to Timpson, "children with special needs and BAME children are consistently more likely to be excluded from school". This is mainly because parents from BAME background find the exclusion process, intimidating, confusing and stacked against them and their children.
The report stated that "parents and carers do not always have the understanding or capability to engage fully in the exclusion process. Many parents and carers reported that the process felt difficult and weighted against their child, particularly given the time limits they have to challenge a head teacher's decision to exclude".
"Other parents found the process fraught and difficult and felt unable to navigate the one-sided system".
Under such uneven and challenging circumstances, parents had to rely on the expertise of qualified legal representatives who understood the complex issues and can guide them through the process. However, research on legal representation has found that parents can struggle to access advocacy services because of the cost involved.
In their Fifth Report of Session 2017/19 entitled "Forgotten Children: Alternative Provision and the Scandal of Ever-Increasing Exclusions", the House of Commons Education Committee stated that, "Parents and pupils often do not know their rights regarding exclusions, and where the pupil is internally excluded or directed off-site, there is no system of redress. Navigating the exclusions process can be difficult and parents and pupils can be left fighting a system that they do not understand and that they feel is stacked against them".
Additionally, "we heard that parents often do not have the time or social capital to challenge schools. One of the issues is that many of the children who get tied up in all these processes have parents who do not have the knowledge, the understanding, the trust or the experience to exert their rights, and they do not have access to advocacy either".
"They are in a very dependent position of trust for professionals, some of whom do a very good job and some of who we know are not doing the right things. It is really important to recognise that some parents can leverage the system, and some cannot, and we need to think about how we help them".
“We consider that an appearance of bias can arise, purely by the makeup and weighting of the panel. We heard from Matthew Dodd, from the Special Educational Consortium, that their power is weighted in favour of schools as the “Education Act 2011 removed the right to reinstatement, so an independent review panel cannot enforce a reinstatement”.
“Pupils and their parents should have someone in their corner".
"When a pupil is excluded from school for more than five non-consecutive days in a school year, the pupil and their parents or carers should be given access to an independent advocate".
"This should happen both where pupils are internally or externally excluded from school, or where the LA is arranging education due to illness”.
The Challenging School Exclusion Report published by JUSTICE in November 2019 also made similar points to the Timpson Review and the House of Commons Education Committee.
The quotes from the above three reports paints a very clear picture of how unjust and unfair the current school exclusion process in England is. All three reports also stressed on the need for free professional legal advice. In answering to the calls for free legal representation during the exclusion process and consistent with our mandate to advance human rights across the UK, CARD-HR's Human Rights Advancement Centre has recruited a number of newly qualified Barristers and Barristers in training to provide free legal representation throughout the exclusion process.
While we understand and acknowledge that competing rights are engaged namely the rights of well-behaved children to a safe learning environment and the rights of teachers to work in a safe environment on the one hand, we equally believe that a decision to exclude a child from school have such far reaching negative consequences that warrants the need for adequate legal representation.
Our focus is not on whether a child should be excluded for whatever reason but on the process that leads to the making such a decision. Our approach therefore is to provide the counterbalancing weight on the one-sided system and give effect to the principle of "equality of arms" so that the school and the pupils and their parents are on an equal footing.
We equally note that advocacy and free legal representation alone is insufficient to solve this complex and confusing problem. Our aim therefore is to work with "Young People's Organisations" across England to raise awareness about school exclusion, its negative impact on the lives of the excluded and its link with drugs and violent crimes. We aim to do this through televised debates and discussions led by young people, social events, conferences, workshops and also use the various social media platforms popular among young people in order to get them engaged.
We are also open to collaboration and forming partnerships with like minded organisations, schools, parents associations, legal professional education providers, Inns of Courts and Local Authorities.
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