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School exclusions research shared with parliamentary group

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Published on 19 June 2023


A Sunderland academic has appeared before an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to present evidence of her findings on the impact school exclusions have on children’s lives.

Sarah Martin-Denham, University Associate Professor of Care and Education at the University of Sunderland, appeared before the APPG inquiry on School Exclusions and Alternative Provision (AP), drawing on experts’ knowledge across the UK, to improve outcomes for vulnerable children, reduce preventable exclusions and improve the quality of education for children excluded from school.

Sarah’s recommendations to the panel included the scrapping of isolation booths in schools as a punitive approach, better training for the education workforce, from newly qualified teachers to those heading towards the end of their careers, ensuring the voices of children and their parents are heard, a national roll-out of assessment hubs which involve teachers, educational psychologists, mental health workers, to assess why the child is struggling in the school environment, the reason behind the behaviour, tailoring a package of support that works best for the individual.

For the past seven years, Sarah’s research has focused on childhood adversities, SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disability) and school exclusion. She has worked with over 200 children and young people from alternative provision schools who have been suspended or permanently excluded from school. As a result of her work, she has created a national training resource aimed at those working across the education sector.

Nine films created by young people, aged four to 16, from five North East local authorities, offer a unique insight into the impact of school exclusion on their lives. The resource #pullupachair has been shared with Government, including Ofsted, the Department for Education, Office of the Children’s Commissioner, Local Authorities, universities, charities, headteachers, teachers, parents, academic experts and educational psychologists.

Speaking to the panel, chaired by Andy Carter MP, and hosted in London, Sarah said: “I've been working with partnership organisations, predominantly in the north-east, to highlight varying experiences of pupils and their parents about what matters to them, and how we can work with them to prevent the children and young people from being excluded. With exclusion there is no universal consensus on how to be inclusive, it’s not defined in the National Curriculum, Early Years’ Framework or recent SEND and Alternative Provision Improvement Plan for example.

“All the parents and children I have spoken to talk about inclusion and what it means to them – it’s about a sense of belonging, they would like to have their voices heard.”

She added: “We are seeing positive outcomes in Sunderland with the introduction of assessment hubs, this is introduced to prevent exclusion, and has worked well.”

When asked what her recommendations should be across the education system, Sarah says: “We need to rethink isolation in schools. We should not be in a position where children who cannot meet behavioral standards in schools are being placed in a room, where they can’t even turn around and in some cases are not actually taught.

“As part of my research, we had some cases of children in isolation every-day for three years in statutory secondary education, children talked to me about scratching their face, pulling their hair out, rocking and being physically sick. I would encourage Ofsted inspections to increase their focus on the children who are not in the classrooms, asking questions about where these children are, what their attendance and mental health is like?

“We need to understand what the alternatives are, approaches to sanctions before isolation, where the pupils have to prove themselves out of isolation, rather than understanding the reasons behind their behaviors and building on relationships with these children.”

All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) are informal, cross-party groups formed by MPs and Members of the House of Lords who share a common interest in a particular policy area, region or country. APPGs have no official status within Parliament.

To find out more about Sarah’s work, she will be sharing findings of her research with children and young people previously excluded from school and wider research with caregivers and professionals.

Book tickets to the upcoming #pullupachair event here: Online Event https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/online-event-sarah-martin-denham-associate-professorial-lecture-tickets-540868180287

In Person Event https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/in-person-sarah-martin-denham-associate-professorial-lecture-tickets-540863817237

#Pullupachairparents launches on 29th June, 12-5pm online or in person at the University of Sunderland. To book email lynn.carr@sunderland.ac.uk