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Why excluded children are at the heart of giant patchwork blanket

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Published on 1, July, 2024

Front view of the giant patchwork blanket with hundreds of hand-stitched colourful squares
The completed patchwork blanket

The Department of Education (DfE) data shows on average, 2,999 children were suspended or permanently excluded from school each school day in England in the 2021/22 academic year.

This statistic inspired Dr Sarah Martin-Denham and a group of parents to create a huge, crocheted blanket of 2,999 squares as part of a community creative arts project – Project 2,999: Increasing the visibility of exclusion from school.

Each square has been handmade and donated by parents, grandparents, children, teachers, headteachers and crochet clubs – representing one of the 2,999 children impacted by suspension or permanent exclusion.

Dr Martin-Denham, Associate Professor of Care and Education at the University of Sunderland, is leading the project alongside a group of parents who have lived through supporting children who have been excluded from school.

She said: “We started the project in October 2023 and did not expect the support we have had from around the world, so many people generously giving their time to support the initiative.

There are many different colours, styles, and textures; each square is unique. We think the completed blanket is at least 14 metres by eight metres – huge, like the challenge of reducing preventable exclusion from school.”

Dr Martin-Denham has previously organised a ‘Big Stitch Up’ event at The Link School in Sunderland where she and other project volunteers began stitching together all 2,999 squares.

One mum involved in the project said: “This project has brought children, families, friends, professionals and even communities together – an army all with the same positive message; that the systems are outdated and need to change.”

The completed blanket has been officially unveiled at Dr Martin-Denham’s annual SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators) conference at the University of Sunderland.

It will be taken out on a year-long tour of national organisations, local authorities, schools and community groups in England to encourage conversations about the extent and impact of school exclusion and what can be done to reduce preventable exclusions.

Completed patchwork blanket

Dr Martin-Denham said: “Project 2,999 has brought together a community in a way that is wholesome and empathetic. It shows how much of a difference you can make with very little funding but a collective of people who hope for change.

The creative arts are a powerful vehicle to amplify the voices of those often unheard and we hope the project will challenge perceptions of children excluded from school and encourage local areas to reflect on alternative approaches.”

Dr Sarah Martin-Denham and Project 2,999 volunteers making the blanket

Project 2,999: Increasing the visibility of exclusion from school is jointly funded by the National Institute of Health Research – School for Public Health Research and the University of Sunderland’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Research Network (ACE).

The project builds on Dr Martin-Denham’s ‘pullupachair’ film series, funded by Research England’s Policy Support Fund, where children aged from five to 16 who have been excluded from school and their parents share their experiences of exclusion.

For more information on the Adverse Childhood Experiences Research Network (ACE) and ‘pullupachair’, visit: https://www.sunderland.ac.uk/more/research/interdisciplinary-research-networks/adverse-childhood-experiences/