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School exclusions: their impact and what we can do about it

Being excluded can have big consequences for a child or young person. In this episode, we hear about the impact exclusions can have. We get clear on what the rights of the child are and how parents can advocate for their children. We talk to parents whose children have been affected by exclusion, and Sandra Harrison, advocate and educationist.

Guest speakers:

Sandra Harrison, Advocate and Educationist, San Carl Ltd

Raquel Lopez, parent and mentor for empaths and highly sensitive people

Natasha Hemmings, parent 

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Useful links

Sandra leads San Carl Ltd, a consultancy which aims to support and give guidance on Special Educational Needs and Disability as well as Autism, working with both parents and education institutions.

Natasha mentions these organisations, which she found helpful:

Just for kids law also provide direct legal support for young people in London. 

Each local authority is required to have a SENDIAS service, who provide information, advice and support for families of SEND children. Find your local council’s here.

Camden Sendias

Islingtons Sendias

This episode was co-produced by Debbie Felix and Sarah Hutt, with editing by Sarah Hutt and Content is Queen, and the host was Charlotte Keith.

Victoria 0:08
Hello and welcome to Uniting Against Violence podcast. We are a community group of parents who are parent champions and knife crime ambassadors from London’s Camden and Islington violence reduction unit and The Parent House, a charity based in Islington. We came together to create a podcast on how we can reduce violence. My name is Victoria and today we are focusing on school exclusions, what the impact of exclusions can be on children and what schools and parents can do about it. Our guests this week are Sandra Harrison, are Raquel Lopez and Natasha Hemmings. Thank you for joining us today, would you kindly share a bit about yourself?

Sandra 0:56
Hello, I’m Sandra Harrison. I’m a director of a company called Sancarl Limited. I’ve been a head teacher of various special schools, mainly social, emotional, mental health, and autism. With my 30 years of experience in schools, I have seen exclusions, I’ve seen the inequality of exclusions and the impact that it has on our young people as well as the parents. I’m also an advocate for parents. So when they don’t understand meetings, and they don’t understand jargon, I will go to these meetings and support them. I’ve seen too many young people get lost in the system. And unfortunately, they’re the ones that may end up one of those statistics.

Raquel 1:38
Hi, I’m Raquel, I am a parent here to talk on behalf of my son, and the experiences that we have gone through. I’m a spiritual leader, intuitive healer, mentor for empaths and highly sensitive people. And recently I’ve become an advocate to support other parents going through similar situations and experiences like my self.

Natasha 2:02
Hi, I’m Natasha Hemming. My middle child was excluded. So I’m here to talk about our experiences of family and the impact that it had on us. I am what I was from a law background. But after seeing what my son has gone through, I’ve now changed career paths. And I’m now a behavior mentor in a secondary school because there is need for lots of people like myself in those kinds of roles to help our young children.

Victoria 2:29
Thank you all for joining us today. I would start with the first question, what is the impact of being excluded on a child. Maybe I’ll start with Sandra.

Sandra 2:41
Okay, the impact on a pupil when they’re excluded, if there’s different ways a child…some children are quite happy to be excluded. The reason I’m saying that is because they want to get away from school, they don’t want to, they’re not happy, they don’t feel safe. They don’t feel they’re being supported. So they’d rather be at home or they’d rather be out on the street. Some of them it’s very emotional. So, as I said, I’m very much about autistic pupils. So when an autistic child is excluded, that has a real impact on their mental health and their anxiety level. And to be fair, some of the things they’re excluded for is unacceptable. And they can’t understand that because socially, they’re not able to understand those reasonings.

Raquel 3:27
Well, from a personnel experience. My son has had a multitude of exclusions when he went from primary school to secondary school. And it escalated to a point that his panic attacks were beyond understanding. So he couldn’t even wear his uniform to go to school. Everything like Sandra mentioned, everything became about safety. And, yes, in a multitude of occasions, he did do things on purpose. He didn’t want to be there, he didn’t feel that people will care about him. I know for a fact that my son, like many other pupils that get excluded, they get super highly overstimulated in a classroom with a multitude of students, they can function in a place where where there is too much noise too much lighting too much of everything. Their nervous system is just super highly active. So that has a knock on effect on their self esteem them feeling not good enough. They don’t feel that they are worthy, and why bother. Eventually they start to take things personally. And one thing leads to the other and the least thing that you expect. You’ve got a child at home full time not doing much not wanting to wake up in the morning. And it’s just an ongoing thing that needs to be solved and start with with the school system.

Natasha 4:57
From my perspective, with my son, it ruined him to be quite honest, that impact it just and it still has this, we’re three years on. And he is not the child he was before is the middle child. He’s outgoing, he’s confident, he’s funny, he liked everything, drama, street, dance, everything, you name it, this child now is completely different, completely different to the point that, you know, he won’t want to go out he didn’t want to do anything. It’s got no self belief. He’s now in the process of going to university. But we had a conversation the other day said, what if I don’t make friends, and that’s not that child. And I’ve got three boys, and that one is the most outgoing and the most funniest. And now he’s worried that he’s gonna go off to uni, and he won’t make any friends. And that’s because this whole process that the system has done to him is literally ruined him.

Victoria 5:49
Is that related to the number of exclusions, is it?

Natasha 5:52
Well, he was permanently excluded from secondary school in his final year, so he got a permanent excluded for year 11, which meant that his GCSE, you know, so high achiever academically really bright, which that just put everything down because it was then he would end up in a PRU, in a PRU, you can only take a maximum of four GCSEs, which he was then thinking I won’t be able to do A-levels. But to sum it up, yes, that whole experience completely knocked his self confidence, his whole, his whole being, it just changed him.

Victoria 6:23
So your son is now in secondary and is going to uni.

Natasha 6:27
So now he’s in college doing A-levels, which for the grace of God, that’s amazing, because how it could have ended. But my thing was, he wasn’t attending the PRU. For me, I was, I was adamant he wasn’t going there. Because it was like a mini prison. You know, they walk around with walkie talkies, the glass doors shut behind each other, they locked him in a classroom for safeguarding for his own purposes to be safe. So my thing was, he wasn’t attending there. But what they put in place for him was phenomenal. Because he got taught at home, he got taught in a cafe down the road, he got taught in a private center, he had a one to one tutor five days a week. So he come out attaining the best grades that that PRU have ever seen in 14 years. So what they put in place was fantastic. But for me, my child wasn’t going to be in there five days a week.

Raquel 7:15
Perhaps that has been your experience on a PRU. My son has finally been given a placement, at a place that is called as well, PRU, and is nothing like that. I think it depends on on each individual. But definitely there is it is obvious that we need more and more provisions that are more like the place that my son has been.

Sandra 7:38
Every parent has different experiences. I when I speak to my parents, I would say you can go and speak to other parents, or you can research, see what is best for you and your child, that first and foremost has to be looked at. I also found transitions year six to year seven is our big problem, its a massive problem. Some of our pupils don’t get into the schools that their parents feel is right for them. Those pupils go into a dark hole, and you can’t find anywhere for them. When they do go into school year seven, their behavior may not be where it is they get excluded, they get excluded or get excluded or get permanently excluded. And then they go off the radar, a percentage and I would say a percentage of those pupils are the pupils that end up on our streets and in gangs. Not all of them. Please don’t say that. Pupils in PRUs they are not all bad children, they’ve had, if you go back into their history, you would realize why their behaviors are the way they are. What it is, is education, parents, government needs to come together to ensure that our pupils needs are met, the child must have a voice. The child knows what’s going on. They may not always be able to articulate it. But listen to your child.

Victoria 9:02
Thank you very much. We’re going to continue and go to the role of the school in this. Sandra.

Sandra 9:09
Right, the role of the school in exclusions. First and foremost, it’s the very last thing that you should do to have an exclusion. Most exclusions, I think the highest percentage of exclusions are around behavior. Persistent behavior, persistent I do say persistent. A lot of pupil’s are excluded, and it’s not persistent. A lot of exclusions are boys. Okay, so what can the school do they need to put in some interventions around this. Why is it our boys that been excluded? Why is it a cohort of pupils that are being excluded whether it’s black boys, wherever it’s gypsy Roma, whatever the case may be white working class, does it matter? No. What we must do is put in an intervention to ensure these pupils feel safe enough to come into school and stay in school and learn. Some schools need to have a better understanding of our SEN because they’re the top ones that are excluded, pupils with special educational needs. So I’ve been in a school and I’ve been supporting a child. Because social skills and social communication is very hard for autistic pupils. They wanted to make friends, few girls said, do this, show your show your parts and say these words, which he did, because he thought, that’s a friendship. He did that. He was shouted out. He ran out of the class and about four teachers ran after him. Within his education, health and care plan, you’re not supposed to go near him and touch him. So what did they all do? They’re all our team and putting their hands towards him. So we punched about three of the teachers. When I came in, they say they’re excluding him for 10 days, when I explained to the head teacher, he’s autistic, you didn’t follow his EHC plan, what is the benefit of a 10 day exclusion for this child, he couldn’t understand. All he wanted to do was be friends. And it ended up with him being excluded for 10 days, reduced to three days, I got it down to three days, which three days was still too much for me. But we in that time, I was able to speak to the child and coach him through and so the school needs to have a better. And I’d say some schools have brilliant, some of them, they just need more support. But we do need to look at those cohorts.

Victoria 11:20
Okay, Sandra, thank you for that, I can hear the support that you’re talking around that particular child, and are they any rights around the child in the school before the exclusion, rights that the parents need to know?

Sandra 11:36
Yeah, when a child is excluded, a letter goes out to the parents, so your child has been excluded. For this reason, if you want to appeal it, please do it within a certain amount of days. So the parents can then appeal my child’s autistic, he didn’t, these / this is the reason etc, etc. Some schools would accept that and talk it through. Some parents are not able to do that their experience of school isn’t that well, isn’t good. Their experience of education is they don’t want to be nowhere near it. They don’t want they don’t fight it. That’s why parents must try and find an advocate, find a network, don’t just sit there, talk to the school. Even if it’s the pastoral team, there are people in the school that care. That’s why they’re there.

Natasha 12:21
I was going to agree exactly what Sandra said, that, you know, I don’t know, me and my family. Where we got on fine myself, my husband got on fine at school, everything else. But when we was getting these letters sent home, it was just like ah, but he’s been excluded for one day for, you know, for throwing an apple core in the.. And I took the letters like, “Okay, you’ve been excluded,” and put the letter down. Why have you been excluded? This isn’t good enough such and such and we’d tell him off. Not once did I think in because he got five fixed term exclusions, not once in any of those five did I think I had the right to challenge them. Because I just thought the school had his best interests at heart. I’d speak up to his pastoral leader “Oh, you know, he was in a bad mood today.” So we just put it down to that. But not once did I think “You know what, I’m going to challenge the school.” Not once. And then after the five, they put it down to persistent behavior. And off, he was off on the fifth one. It was like, “We’re really sorry, mum. He’s been permanently excluded.” And there isn’t enough information out there. And I consider myself quite a you know, every parent’s evening I was there, every incident that happened at school, we were there. We were speaking, we were on first name terms with the head. I thought to myself that we, so if us as a family thinking, okay, well, we’re quite up there, and we’re on the ball with everything, the parents that don’t have a clue, the parents that really believe in the system, that I’m putting my child in your hands, and I know you have got my child’s best interests at heart, it’s so not the case. And it’s exactly what Sandra said, there needs to be more info out there. Parents need to, you know, I don’t know…but I’m just getting all hot and bothered thinking about it!

Raquel 14:01
I can understand. And I’ve gone through similar experiences to your so I can understand and empathize obviously inside out. What I wanted to add from what Sandra has said initially is autism doesn’t really get picked up straightaway. And unlike yourself, Natasha, I was challenging the school from the beginning. What I was saying is not not that your behavior point system doesn’t work with, doesn’t work. What I am saying is that it doesn’t work for every child and my son is in one of those categories. In my son’s secondary school, there were hardly anybody that could support or understand people like my own son. They don’t know. They really don’t know how to deal with them. And then obviously what we don’t know, we fear, we reject, we refuse to accept, and, again it goes down to the confidence levels and lack of motivation, lack of engagement, et cetera, et cetera.

Sandra 14:57
These pupils are going to be the adults and we’ve got to make sure we prepare them effectively. And at the moment, in some cases, we are not. We are not meeting the needs of all of our pupils. We are meeting the needs of the high achievers. We are meeting the needs, I won’t even say we are meeting the needs of the middle, because they’re just, they’re just in the middle. And those that are struggling for whatever the reason, there’s not enough resources going in there. So we need more. And I would, I would say that all parents need to have an advocate. They need to have someone that’s going to speak for them in those meetings. They’re the ones that goes to tribunal with them. Because the system just gets too confusing. The parents are mentally and physically exhausted by the time it gets to that point. So they’re not, they’re talking on emotions. And that’s where you get, “Oh that parent, we don’t want to hear because they always shouting.” No, they’re emotionally charged. That’s the way they’re going to speak. That’s when you get your advocates to come in because they’re going to be on a different level.

Natasha 16:03
I contacted Coram Children’s Centre, there is also Matrix Chambers, barristers chambers, they’ve got a thing called the school exclusion project. So they work pro-bono for free, and the Black Child Agenda as well. They were brilliant. So these are organizations that I found really helpful, but I had to do my own research and find that.

Victoria 16:23
So what are the challenges for teachers?

Sandra 16:28
I think the challenges for teachers, it’s quite high, obviously. Most teachers should read about their pupils. There’s always paperwork on that child. Right now, saying that, teachers workload is ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous. So they don’t always have the time to read about their pupils. If they were able to read that, they probably would alleviate some of the problems. And also with being a teacher, your training doesn’t train you on how to identify a child that’s got social, emotional, and mental health. And if they do it, maybe an hour here or an hour there. So it’s very hard for our teachers, we’re putting our teachers through quite a lot and expecting them to know quite a lot. I always say the best thing is for any teachers to get to know your children, get to know your pupils. The very quiet ones that will walk in and sit down, I could identify something was wrong with them. And I would speak to them outside. And it could be, “Oh, Grandma died last night.” You need to know your pupils. And it is hard. If you’re in a mainstream school, there’s 1500, you’re probably teaching at least 300 of them. Special schools, it’s a lot different. Because there’s about 40,50 there. Everyone knows about the child, because every member of staff in the schools, I’ve headed up, you’ve had to read the paperwork on that child. You needed to know their trigger points, what works well with them. And you need to know about the parents. So it’s a hard job. And my hat always goes off to our teachers, it is very hard for them.

Victoria 18:07
What is your top piece of advice for parents who might be facing the challenges we have been talking about just now?

Natasha 18:16
Well, my first advice to any parent that was even going through a first fixed term exclusion, you just appeal. That, that would be my first advice, appeal from the off.

Sandra 18:26
I think what I would say, if your child is excluded, I think you have to speak to the school about their account of it, the child’s account, and where you can go next. Are you meeting the needs of my child? There’s a lot of stigma with parents, they don’t want to do this because they don’t want their child to be classed as special educational need, parents need to stop with that. Don’t worry about the stigma, you need to worry about your child. If they say that your child needs an education, health and care plan, because they’ve got needs, take it, hold it run with it, it’s with your child to their 25. If they stay in education. So parents need to stop with “I don’t want my child to be labeled as really naughty, or he’s got special needs.” So what? Go with it. So long as your child is supported effectively, and get the support from others. Speak to other parents, speak to organizations, speak to advocates, speak to people like myself.

Raquel 19:24
Well, my first advice, obviously, this is talking from a perspective that the parent is 100% responsible, first of all, and 100% accountable. And what I mean by that is that they are doing everything that they can to do what is best for the child and to make the school accountable as well. When they’ve done that, my next tip would be get back up, because that’s exactly what I did from the very beginning. I got back up: “You’re not listening to me as a parent. You’re not taking me seriously. I’m going to bring people, organisations that are going to speak on my behalf on my son’s behalf.”

Victoria 20:04
Thank you. That is really, really important. Because it echoes what Sandra has said. When it goes further, you need an advocate, you need someone who knows the rules, who knows the laws, who can actually speak without emotions.

Raquel 20:19
And I can add that it was not until I brought support. Even me being outspoken. I felt a multitude of times I was not being heard. I was not being taken seriously. I can see Natasha already….

Natasha 20:35
For me, as went to an IRP, which is an independent review panel. So we appealed to the governors, we lost, we then went to an independent review panel, they hired a top city barrister. So it was lucky that I work in law, and I was able to access a barrister myself, but you’ve got to think about the parents that haven’t got that, yes, parents that are just not in the know. So we went along with a barrister, but we still lost, we still lost at our IRP. And it was ridiculous what they actually put my son through as well. We had to stop their barrister and say, “We’re not in court. Stop questioning.” Because the way that they was lining their questions, you have my son sitting there, rolling his piece of paper just like that. Just so frightened. And it was just like, we’re not in court. You know, this is about his education. This is crazy. When you think about it. This is my child’s education. And we’re sitting here with two city barristers. What does the world come to literally, and I was fortunate that I was in a place where I could pay for that. What about the parents that haven’t even got that? And I started off with an advocate first, but the school and the governors was so hard, they were going in very, very hard. My files, I’ve got files like I’m a solicitor myself, and I was trying to read through them again yesterday, just to refresh my mind. You know, it upset me

Raquel 21:53
Knock on effect, at a multitude of levels.

Natasha 21:56
And it’s funny, because for the grace of God, I had a fantastic boss at the time. And she was saying to me, right, sometimes I’d phone home because he wouldn’t be awake. And I’d be scared that he’d done something. So then I have to find my neighbour, and say, “Please go and knock on the door.” And just make sure he – sorry to say – but make sure he’s alive. Because I was worried that I would come home and find him hanging from the banisters. Because that’s how bad he was. And yet I’m at work. And then my boss used to just say to me, “Go home, pack up and go home and you need to go home, you can’t be here. And you’re worried that your child is at home by himself with the possibility of him harming himself.”

Raquel 22:33
And this is what I meant by being on edge.

Sandra 22:34
Yeah, yeah, that’s what I would actually say. That’s why we have to support parent carers. We’re talking about the child here. And exclusions. But also they have parent carers. And if those parent carers are not effectively, emotionally ready for what is going to hit them, it is all going to fall apart. So we must support our parent carers. The educational system, we have to be more transparent. And we have to be more knowledgeable about all the areas. We’re all about teaching and progress, and good products of society. But good products – a society isn’t just academic, it’s also about social and mentally, you’ve got to have them strong. So that will be my saying, as an educationist for 30 odd years. That’s where my passion lies.

Victoria 23:26
Oh, thank you. Thank you very much, Sandra, on that last note that, it has to be around a support for the child and the parent, so that the child is emotionally and dependents are emotionally ready for anything that happens with their children. And it makes life easier for the educatist as this well.

Raquel 23:48
This podcast that you are doing guys, I really am really grateful. Really, really truly grateful because it all begins actually with more more of these talks, more awareness, more people knowing what to do, where to go. Ultimately, we are there not every single person like you Natasha and myself have that, you know, courageous ability to pursue what we feel that is right for our kids.

Victoria 24:15
Thank you so much. And I bet this is going to be fascinating listen for our listeners. Thank you for listening to Uniting Against Violence, the podcast about reducing serious youth violence in our communities. We’ve put useful links to the things we have talked about today in the episode description. If you found this episode useful, please subscribe, share and like on social media at @unitingagainstviolence. If you would like to get in touch with us, you can also email us at Reducing violence is a big topic. And we know we can’t cover everything and every perspective. So if you are listening to this thinking about something we have missed, we encourage you to start conversations way you are. Together, we can unite against violence by working with each other to create safer and healthier communities. This episode was co-produced by Charlotte Keith and Sarah Hutt. Guest speakers were Sandra Harrison, Raquel Lopez and Natasha Hemmings, with editing by Sarah Hutt. And the host was me Victoria Sibanda. Special thanks to our partners, Islington and Camden Councils, Public Health, The Parent House and Crux, and our funder, the Mayor of London through the Violence Reduction Unit, as well of course, our guest speakers. Thank you for listening.

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