The discussion was led by Renuka Jeyarajah-Dent, director of special projects at Coram and a chartered educational psychologist, and chaired by Sir Norman Lamb, chair of the board of Maudsley Hospital and the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition. The event brought together leading education experts from a range of disciplines including Dr Martin Glynn, an education, public health and criminal justice system specialist from Birmingham City University; Dr Simon Gallacher, an education research and policy advisor; Rob Williams, senior policy advisor at the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT); and Lachlan Wilson, an education and employment barrister.
The discussion focused on the risk factors for school exclusion, the critical need for early intervention, the potential negative impact on the lives of young people and the current school exclusions legal framework and guidance.
Renuka underlined the importance of early intervention, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with additional needs: “Children with social, emotional and mental health difficulties face the highest risk of school exclusion. Educational psychologists are the GPs of the school system but they are not available to families at the point of need. Educational psychologists should be made freely available to children at an early stage to look holistically at the child’s development, identify the risks, and bringing the right interventions to bear. Without this, it is people with means – those who shout the loudest or who can afford to pay privately – that will get attention for their children. Timely access to educational psychologists should be integral to the ‘levelling up’ strategy.”
Rob Williams highlighted the critical role schools play in the early identification of exclusion risk factors but added that they needed support to enable children to remain in school.
Dr Martin Glynn highlighted that exclusion from school features highly within the over representation of black children in the criminal justice system and also noted the importance of young people having a positive “self-concept” and a sense of belonging and inclusion.
Dr Simon Gallacher, who carried out a review of Coram’s school exclusions pilot project at the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, spoke of the learning loss, disengagement and disenchantment experienced by young people who have been excluded from school and the value of a solutions-focused intervention to bridge the gap between parents, carers, their children, and the schools. This was echoed by youth case worker Olu Sowemimo who also disengaged from school as a young person and became involved in county lines. He shared his experience of a fractured system leaving him falling through the gaps. He said that a more that a more joined up multi-agency approach would have helped him to stay in school.
Natasha Bishop from Kensington and Chelsea Family Services underlined the importance of developing services around school exclusion and confirmed that Kensington and Chelsea had commissioned an advocacy-based project which will be led by Clement James Centre with Coram providing psychological and legal expertise.