New London ‘inclusion charter’ aims to keep kids in school

The equivalent of 1,430 children each day lost learning in London in 2021/22 due to suspension or persistent absenteeism, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

credit Taylor Flowe via Unsplash
credit Taylor Flowe via Unsplash

Sadiq Khan has launched an ‘inclusion charter’ for London aimed at lowering school suspensions and preventing young people from becoming involved in crime.

The new charter, developed by the mayor’s violence reduction unit (VRU), has so far received support from 18 of London’s 32 boroughs, and asks schools to follow ‘inclusive practice’.

According to a VRU analysis of government data, the equivalent of 1,430 children each day lost learning in London in 2021/22 due to suspension or persistent absenteeism – up 71% on pre-pandemic levels in 2018/19.

The VRU argues there is “a correlation between children with a history of either suspension or exclusion from school and violence”.

A City Hall youth survey found that 47% of pupil referral unit (PRU) attendees said they know someone who has carried a knife, compared with 25% of non-PRU attendees. Separate data suggests almost half of the prison population were excluded as children.

The VRU stressed however that the charter “is not a zero-tolerance approach to exclusions or suspensions”, with Khan believing that schools should still be able to remove pupils when “necessary for the safety and wellbeing of children and staff”.

The mayor said: “We are seeing suspensions and absenteeism rise both in London and the rest of the country… We also know there is a correlation between school exclusions and violence.

“It’s why we are launching London’s inclusion charter – the first of its type city-wide. My VRU has led the way, working in partnership with young people, local authorities and schools to develop a charter that prioritises education in our city that is fully inclusive, fair and available to all.

“Of course, this approach requires investment and that’s why we’re investing £1.4m in a partnership with UNICEF UK to provide further training and resources to support our hardworking teachers to embed inclusion which we know keeps young people in school, safe and able to thrive.”

The mayor said he would be writing to the boroughs who had not yet signed up to the charter, “to remind them” of its existence and the “benefits” he believes it will bring to schools. 

Responding to concerns about schools still needing to be able to exclude particularly disruptive pupils, he added: “I’ve got family members who are teachers and I’ve spent a lot of time with headteachers.

“None of us can actually appreciate how hard being a headteacher is and the challenges headteachers face. They must have absolute discretion in relation to the safety and wellbeing of children or staff. 

“Nobody’s saying – I’m certainly not saying – headteachers shouldn’t be able to do so [exclude pupils]. I’m not interfering with their right to do so. 

“What I’m saying though is, that if we can keep children in school, it’s really important that we do so.”

The charter sets out four guiding principles: schools ’embedding equity and diversity’ in their teaching, students being treated as ‘active citizens’ by teachers, schools being ‘adaptable and reflective’, and students being enabled to develop all of their skills ‘beyond academic achievement’.

VRU director Lib Peck said: “We know that children and young people are safer in school. It’s why tackling all forms of school exclusions and driving up attendance is core to the VRU’s prevention work.

“London’s inclusion charter is a commitment to change that promotes and invests in inclusive practice. Children’s rights and the experience of teachers is at its heart.

She added: “There are already lots of schools and local authorities demonstrating inclusion and its flourishing. Our work has been about building momentum to help support that and to realise our ambition of a London-wide charter that prioritises inclusion, belonging and safety.”

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