Social exclusion

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How can we exclude children before they've even reached the statutory age for education?, asks Sue Cowley

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Recent figures on exclusions tell a worrying story: in 2013/14 more than 2,000 children received fixed-term exclusions from nursery and Reception classes. In the same period, 30 children under the age of four were permanently excluded. Boys were over three times more likely to be excluded than girls, and children with special needs had the highest
rate of permanent exclusion. How can we exclude children, before they've even reached the statutory age for full-time education?

With the pressure on to achieve results, and prove that children are making progress towards predefined goals, it is tempting to create highly structured systems where children make rapid progress but where they have less say over what and how they learn. When busy, active children have no physical outlet for their frustrations, behaviour can deteriorate.

Social psychologist and experimental social science researcher Donald Campbell, in what has become known as Campbell's Law, states, 'The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making ... the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.' This law is used to explain how high-stakes testing leads to teachers 'teaching to the test', to get the required results. By making it ever more critical for settings and schools to be 'successful', it becomes more likely that some will struggle to deal with extremes of difficult behaviour. But exclusion does not solve the issue; it simply moves the child on to another place.

A teacher who worked in a special school once said to me, 'If we can't include children in our society when they are young, what hope do we have of including them later on?' While extreme behaviours are very challenging for all concerned, our aim should be to do everything in our power to keep young children in education. If this means adapting practice, so children have more space and time to play, then that is what we should do. Because if we can't help children stay in an educational setting when young, what hope do they have of staying in one when they grow up?

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