Beyond the Doors of School – Serious Youth Violence and the link to School Exclusions

Beyond the Doors of School – Serious Youth Violence and the link to School Exclusions

18th March 2021

TLG is one of three charities being supported by the 2021 Diocese of London Lent Appeal, which this year is focusing on  Youth Violence.  In the second blog of a two-part series, Deborah, a former TLG headteacher who is currently leading TLG’s work on serious youth violence, writes about the link between serious youth violence and school exclusions – bringing in TLG’s experience with supporting young people at-risk of the issue.

In the first blog of this two-part series, we looked into the rise of serious youth violence and the impact COVID-19 will have had on this.

At Transforming Lives for Good (TLG), we are also increasingly concerned at the apparent link between school exclusion and serious youth violence.

Throughout our 21 years’ experience of working with vulnerable young people, we have found that students excluded from school are more susceptible to being drawn into exploitation or risky behaviour. These children, who are falling through preventable cracks in the education system, should not be left to spend even more time on the streets. They need  more  social, educational and  emotional support — not less.

Urgent action is needed to ensure that they have that support.

In July 2020, temporary (or ‘fixed-term’) exclusions in English schools in the year 2018-19 had reached a 13-year high of 438,300, up 7% on the previous year – a rise partially determined by pupils being recurrently excluded. Permanent exclusions were almost unchanged on the previous year, but up 60% on five years before (Department for Education, 2020).

Almost a quarter of children in England who said they had carried a knife in the previous year had been excluded or suspended from school, compared with only 3% of children who had not carried a knife (Department for Education, 2020). Typically, those students most at risk are students who leave school late, are often in detention or are socially excluded.

Alternative Provisions (APs) and Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) that work with young people who have been excluded from mainstream school are of huge interest to the drug trade.

Students in the community are very aware that if you are looking for someone to run drugs for you, someone to handle the practical aspects of running drugs on the street, the easiest place to look is APs - simply because the young people are most often disaffected, and not engaged with their education. A young man cites from his past experience; 'A lot of people who were in PRUs are in cunch now.' (Cunch, an abbreviation of countryside, is slang for the county lines drugs business).

Evaluation into county lines also suggests there are areas where 100% of the young people who are involved in county lines came from pupil referral units or alternative provision establishments.

Discussions with TLG Education Centre headteachers and students on school exclusions and serious youth violence has emphasised the vulnerability of children excluded from mainstream education and their potential exposure to criminal exploitation. One of our former students told us that the ‘easiest places to recruit for gangs are outside schools’, APs and PRUs.

One of our students form a TLG Education Centre said:

When you are excluded, you are at home and you’re bored. Mum’s gone to work. The rest of your brothers and sisters are at work. What are you going to do with yourself? You want to get up to stuff. So, you go out and see what you can do. You might meet someone else who’s been excluded. He’s not up to anything. ‘Alright, cool, let’s go down the road. Let’s see what we can do.’ And that’s how it all starts.

It is vital to understand how vulnerable young people are targeted and recruited into gangs, including how they are used and abused in the ‘county lines’ drug movement. As a children’s charity working alongside the local church in communities across the UK, it is clear that that we have an important role to play in understanding serious youth violence, intervention in the process and the provision of pastoral care to individuals and communities affected by serious youth violence.

Many of TLG’s Education Centres already model good practice in addressing this difficult and distressing issue. A TLG Education headteacher said:

This is a societal problem that we must educate our children and communities about. We must NOT just see this as a school-based problem.

Together with the Church, TLG is in a unique position to be proactive in such situations. We are present in the centre of local communities, at key life events and involved in the delivery of education in partnership with the local church and local youth groups. We must remember that the stories of violence among young people are not simply 'their' stories, they are 'our' stories - these young people are part of our communities, many either attending our schools, church or living in the local area. 

Please support the 2021 Diocese of London Lent Appeal, which this year is focusing on Youth Violence.  The Lent Appeal, which began on Wednesday 17 February, will focus on both raising awareness of the issue, and raising money for three charities - of which TLG is one. You can find out more about the appeal here.

Deborah Barnett

Deborah Barnett

Deborah Barnett is School Development Manager and Education Policy Lead, she is London based and has worked in mainstream education, special schools and alternative provision for over twenty years. Deborah has a broad and in depth knowledge of national education policy and passionate about social and racial justice in education. She is committed to structural change to ensure all children can achieve more in schools. Her values in education are firmly linked to an inclusive, comprehensive system where all learners are valued equally.

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