Recently, a study by Edinburgh University was published showing that pupils aged 12 who are excluded from school are four times as likely as other children to be in prison at some point in their adult lives[1].  These shocking findings reminded me of the devastating consequences that exclusion can have on the lives of children, young people from London schools and their families. 

Fifteen year old Grace from Southwark was one of these young people. Her attendance at school was erratic, and when she did turn up she exhibited anger and frustration towards those in authority.  Underneath her destructive behaviour lay a troubled girl with a chaotic home life, living under the shadow of sexual abuse. Looking for comfort and support that she didn’t get at home, Grace felt drawn to older gang members in her area.  

Sadly, Grace’s experience is like that of many young people on the verge of permanent exclusion. When set adrift from the stability and structure that school can provide, excluded young people are often left without purpose or direction.  Unsupervised, they can end up “roaming the streets, or sitting around at home[2]”.  In this context, getting any qualifications becomes a struggle and the future looks increasingly uncertain.  Often branded as failures by both society and their families, these young people look in other places for identity, stability and a sense of belonging.  Often gang membership and crime seem the only option. 

Exclusion has serious negative consequences that can be costly on a social and an economic level.  The hard truth is: when children and young people fail to remain in education, their families and their communities suffer too.  Mr Gove has already acknowledged that there is an “iron-clad link between illiteracy, disruption, truancy, exclusion and crime which we need to break[3].” The latest figures show that 5,080 children and young people were permanently expelled in 2010/2011[4].  With so many young people cast off from the rest of society it is hardly surprising to find areas with high exclusion rates rife with unemployment, addiction, homelessness and debt.  The Princes Trust estimates that over a generation, educational underachievement costs the UK economy £22 billion.  

Many schools do work with parents and other agencies to try and ensure the best outcomes for children, but recent reports, such as No Excuses[5] from The CSJ and They Never Give Up on You[6] from the Children’s Commissioner have found that some schools are illegally excluding pupils, sometimes permanently, without going through a full formal process.  There have been reports of incidents in which head teachers send children home for extended periods of time without keeping records, meaning the practice is very difficult to detect and monitor.

At XLP we work with some of the young people that are most likely to be excluded: those facing challenges such as family breakdown, mental and physical health issues, addiction, financial, emotional and aspirational poverty; as well as growing up in communities where anti-social behaviour, crime and gangs are common place.  We understand that when students display persistent disruptive or violent behaviour, exclusion can seem like the only option.  However, it is not always the right response.  Because the stakes are so high, we all must persevere in tackling the root causes to why young people exhibit such behaviour in the first place and work with them to ensure everything is done to keep them in education for as long as possible.  If we can come alongside these young people and find ways for them to thrive academically, then we make headway in ensuring that they break out of the seemingly inevitable cycle of hopelessness and access a more positive future. 

The catalyst for change in Grace’s life was an XLP mentor, who helped to tackle some of the root causes of her behaviour, such as her low self-esteem. Only nine months later, Grace’s teachers nominated her to be head girl at her school due to her model behaviour and hard work – a complete turnaround from the situation at the start of the year.  Now Grace can look forward to a positive future.  Tackling educational failure at a personal, relational level can have long-term positive effects in the lives of the young people concerned.

In light of this, XLP are hosting an evening on Tackling Educational Failure with The Centre for Social Justice at the XLP Urban Training Centre, All Hallows-on-the-Wall on the 2nd May 2013, from 7pm to 9pm. The aim is to gather a range of perspectives together, including teachers, policy makers and young people, to discuss and challenge each other on the root causes of educational failure, the quality of the UK education system, the effectiveness of alternative provisions such as PRUs as well as potential solutions for change. We hope readers will consider joining us in this discussion. Please visit the ‘join in’ section of our website for more details and to book tickets.

What do you think?

– Is the UK education system failing our children?

– Are PRUs the answer?  Or is more support in mainstream education needed?

– How can we help young people who have dropped out the school system completely?


[2] CSJ report, No Excuses:


[4] DfE