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.
One thing that the Timpson Review on School Exclusions, House of Commons Education Committee on Alternative Provisions, and JUSTICE Report on Challenging School Exclusions have in common is that the current School Exclusions process is unfair and disproportionately affect children from Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Backgrounds.
The 2019 Timpson Report revealed that over 2,000 children are excluded from school in England every day and that most of them are from BAME background. Their parents on the other hand do not know how to navigate this system which they find intimidating, confusing and stacked against them and their children.
Through our work with parents, carers and children in Southwark, Lambeth and Lewisham, we discovered that the adversarial nature of the system is the main problem. In most cases our early intervention reverses the exclusion decision. In cases where we believe that the relationship between the school and the pupil has broken down and it would not be in the best interest of the pupil to stay in the school, we negotiate for a transfer.
Currently, we are working with parents, carers, multi-faith groups and civil society organisations to set up a mediation group to reduce the exclusion rate and also a group that will work with parents and carers to change pupil's behaviour.
Our Community Legal Service resulted from our Zero School Exclusion project and our continued engagement with communities in Southwark, Lambeth and Lewisham. As we work mainly with deprived communities that are also migrant communities or communities from BAME background, we realised that lack of access to justice for most members in these communities is prevalent and growing.
We noted that there are many Law or Legal Advice Centres in these boroughs but the number of people who have unresolved legal issues is huge and growing. In order to understand why members of these communities still struggle to access legal advice when there is a plethora of legal advice centres in the area, we conducted a study.
We discovered that as English is not the first or second language for most people we came into contact with in these communities, describing the event or telling their story becomes extremely difficult for them. We also found out that many community members lack the confidence, shy or are afraid to explain certain issues to professionals who do not share the same or similar experience with them.
As most of us at CAD-HR are lived-experience legal practitioners from migrant communities, we decided to design and launch our 'Unfettered Access to Justice' project. What we mean by 'Unfettered Access' is to give our service users a range of options to tell their story or express themselves in the language they feel more confident and comfortable with.
We have recruited and trained most of our staff to communicate in the most popular languages spoken in the communities that we work in. As a result, in 2020 we assisted over 1,500 community members with various legal issues ranging from housing issues, to family law, immigration, administrative law, employment and school exclusions among others.
Presently, we are working on upgrading our Community Legal Service Centre from a tiny clinic to a Law Centre capable of addressing the needs of our growing service users.