During the time I have been an MP in Hackney and Stoke Newington, I have met with hundreds of constituents to see how I can help them with problems relating to housing, immigration or education. Some of the most heartbreaking stories I hear come from mothers whose child has been permanently excluded from school. Often the child in question will join their mother at the meeting with me. They may look bashful, ashamed or embarrassed to be there. But more often than not they appear to me to be vulnerable children who are in need of a high level of educational and emotional support.
Being excluded from school is no laughing matter. It means that a child’s education is disrupted and it is traumatic for the child’s mother or parents because they have to make difficult choices about how they can get their child’s education back on track. But being excluded can also have a terrible knock-on effect for a child’s future life. Disrupting a child’s education can make them less likely to gain qualifications that are so important for a future career. Not being able to secure employment can lead to criminal activity and all the downfalls associated with that. In 2001 director general of the Prison Service, Martin Narey, said:
“The 13,000 young people excluded from school each year might as well be given a date by which to join the prison service some time later down the line.”
For many years Black children in London, and particularly Black boys, have been more likely to be excluded from school than other pupils. In fact it may well be the case that as much as 80% of the pupils excluded from schools are Black boys. It is of course vital that our teachers and headteachers have the power to discipline their pupils and ensure that unruly behaviour is prevented or punished. Unfortunately in some extreme cases this means excluding a pupil. But I am worried that Black boys are disproportionately excluded from school. And I am worried that parents do not have the support they need when their child is excluded from school.
At the beginning of this month, school exclusions was the topic of the sixth annual London Schools and the Black Child conference that I organise with the GLA. Almost two thousand parents, teachers, academics and children filled the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre. We had inspiring speeches from comedians Steven K Amos and Little Miss Jocelyn as well as Mayor of London Boris Johnson and children and young people’s minister Baroness Morgan. Workshops saw experts in the field of education give their views on the topic and offer advice on what to do when a child is excluded. But most importantly the conference gave parents a chance to talk to each other about the problems they face. I hope that keeping the issue of school exclusions on the agenda and allowing parents to access support and advice will help to bring down the number of all children excluded from schools. And that can only be a good thing for the future of children in London.