The Mayor of London and Police and Crime Commissioners across the country have jointly called on the Prime Minister to outlaw ‘off-rolling’, which sees pupils disappear from school registers without having been formally excluded.

Growing evidence shows that the most vulnerable children in society are more likely to be either permanently excluded from school or off-rolled, while research shows those excluded from mainstream education are at significantly greater risk of becoming involved in or affected by serious youth violence.

Sadiq, together with PCCs for the West Midlands, South Yorkshire, Humberside, Northumbria, West Yorkshire, Leicestershire and South Wales, have written to the Prime Minister, raising concerns about the way in which some schools are removing some young people from formal education to protect the school and its image – including attempts to boost performance in exam league tables – when it’s clear how vulnerable these children become to being sucked into criminality. 

Figures show the number of exclusions is increasing, with the number of young people permanently excluded having risen by 56 per cent across England between 2013/2014 and 2016/2017. Over the same period, the number of permanent exclusions has increased in the West Midlands by 62 per cent and 40 per cent in London.

In Scotland, which saw dramatic reductions in violence over the course of a decade, Scottish Violence Reduction Unit deputy director, Will Linden, credited a dramatic reduction in school exclusions in the country as a key factor in keeping children out of trouble.

In its 2017/18 annual report, Ofsted identified off-rolling as a problem with some schools removing a pupil from the school roll without a formal, permanent exclusion, when the removal is primarily in the interests of the school rather than the young person.

Ofsted says the most vulnerable children are more likely to be excluded or off-rolled. This is backed up by the Children’s Commissioner who has stated more needs to be done to keep pupils in mainstream education. In a report to London’s Violence Reduction Unit, the Commissioner has said exclusions hit disadvantaged and vulnerable young people disproportionately and that early years provide the best opportunities for interventions.

Research by HM Inspectorate of Prisons has revealed that nine out of 10 children in custody had been excluded from school, while evidence shows children excluded from school are overrepresented in Young Offender Institutions and are more likely to be victims of serious violence.

In their letter to the Prime Minister, the Mayor and PCCs urge the government to take urgent action on exclusions and off-rolling to help tackle the causes of serious youth violence. They are calling on Ministers to give local authorities the powers, funding and responsibilities they need over all school exclusions, and to properly fund schools so they have the resources they need to support all pupils including those with complex needs. They argue that there is no clear criteria and process to excluding a young person, with schools having different policies to deal with pupil behaviour, worsened by a lack of co-ordination with other key agencies like health, social services and other schools and colleges.

In the letter, the Mayor and the PCCs say: “Clearly, the way the education system deals with excluded young people is broken. It cannot be right that so many of those who have committed offences have been excluded from school or were outside of mainstream education.

“That is why the time has come to act urgently. In the first instance, local authorities need powers and responsibilities over all school exclusions. Time and again we are hearing how the fragmentation of the education system, and the breaking of the link between schools and local authorities, has led to a lack of accountability, coordination and action.

“There is significant variation by school as to what will result in exclusion, with many excluded pupils moving between local authority areas and also out of their cities. The practice of off-rolling must be outlawed.”

A decision to exclude a young person is not taken lightly by the majority of schools and for certain behaviour permanent exclusions is the only course of action. But early intervention is needed in order to reduce the risk of a young person reaching the point of exclusion in the first place and to help prevent them becoming vulnerable to youth offending. That is why London is adopting a public health approach through the Violence Reduction Unit, based on evidence of what has worked in Glasgow to reduce levels of serious violence.

Increased pressures on school budgets and cuts to services that support our most vulnerable young people and their families, have left many at breaking point. The Mayor and PCCs have urged the government to reverse its hugely damaging cuts to school budgets.

The letter says: “Our schools are facing significant funding pressures and many interventions for our most vulnerable children are being cut, this cannot be right and schools must have the necessary resources to deliver good interventions and support to those at risk of exclusion.

“We are investing in our policing as much as the Government will allow us to do, plus further investing in early intervention projects across our regions. Yet so many of the causes of violent crime are out of our control, but in the hands of the Government. That is why it is high time the Government matched our ambitions and showed clear leadership on this issue.”

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