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Sector leaders unite in call for rethinking approach to reducing school exclusions

During Mental Health Awareness Week, Place2Be hosted a cross-sector roundtable to discuss the impact of school exclusions and identify practical solutions to better support children and young people.

Boy in school playground looking frustrated

Chaired by former Director of Mental Health for Public Health England, Gregor Henderson, the session brought together leading figures from the education, health, justice, and voluntary sectors to focus on the solutions to reducing exclusions and suspensions.

Speakers highlighted the growing concern about school exclusion or suspension. They also discussed the connection between poor mental health and school exclusion, highlighted by evidence from Place2Be’s published research.

If you have poor mental health, you are more likely to be excluded. From a mental health point of view, exclusion is a blunt and not helpful tool. There are things we can do at a whole-school level and individually that improve mental health, but also prevent children from being excluded. Tamsin Ford, Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University of Cambridge

Some of the practical solutions identified by the group were:

  • more understanding of the individual child's needs, including improved assessment identifying which children and young people need help and are more at risk of exclusion
  • recognition of the importance of good relationships to give a child or young person the best start in life
  • promoting a school culture which sees the nurturing approaches of targeted mental health support adopted throughout the school, as part of a whole-school approach to wellbeing and inclusion, from Governors and School Leadership to classroom support staff
  • building and developing a school workforce with a better understanding of child development, mental health and risk factors, including incorporating mental health into all teacher training; this should include training for teaching assistants too
  • involving parents and families, supporting them to help their children to move forward through mental health training and advice
  • the need for high-quality and regulated Alternative Provision for children who are not in mainstream school
  • better data to examine the scale and impact of the problem; and better sharing of this data
  • school governing bodies to have the skills to understand children’s needs; and their role in addressing these needs
  • providing specialist, targeted mental health support within all UK schools, which is proven to help reduce the number of exclusions.
It's really important that we build the understanding in schools around the impact of exclusions. When we exclude or suspend a child from school, we are severing a sense of community, belonging and safety – which can be a trigger for things to spiral out of control. Jo Hutchinson, Director for SEND and Additional Needs - Education Policy Institute
You can provide counselling, but if the child is going back into a school that doesn’t have the right environment and culture to support the child and understanding of what’s going on, then the pattern of disruption caused by unmet need will repeat. As well as whole-school approaches, we also need to support schools to deliver on their universal offer and ensure a universal understanding of inclusion. Mehak Tejani, Education Systems Lead, The RSA

The group unanimously agreed that a multi-agency, integrated approach is needed to join up solutions to address the underlying causes that lead to exclusions and suspensions. We have agreed to continue working together to share learnings and best practices as part of our shared mission to improve life chances and educational outcomes for some of society’s most vulnerable young people.

Read a detailed summary of the roundtable, and its outcomes.

From our first-hand experience of providing universal, integrated, and comprehensive whole-school mental health support in schools, we know solutions exist and the long-term human and social cost of a child being excluded from education can be prevented. Today’s roundtable shows the opportunity, commitment and value of working collaboratively to solve this challenge. Catherine Roche, CEO, Place2Be

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