Permanent school exclusion can have devastating effects on young people, often leading to a spiral of disadvantage for those already marginalised.
As new exclusive data from the Department of Education shows that mixed white and Caribbean girls are disproportionately faced with permanent exclusions from schools – compared to their white British counterparts – we must do better.
While boys continue to face higher rates of exclusion overall, girls excluded from education are a significant and growing minority. For instance, our 2021 ‘Girls at risk of exclusion’ briefing spotlighted rising rates of girls’ exclusion with a growth of 66% in the five years before the pandemic. Although there has been an overall decrease in the number of permanent exclusions in the last academic year (from 5,057 in 2019/20 to 3,928 in 2020/21), our exclusive data shows that the rate at which certain groups of girls are excluded has stayed largely the same.
Rates of exclusion among girls tell us that girls are being let down. Where they should receive protection and support to stop problems escalating, a failure to identify and address their adverse experiences means that they are excluded from the very environments where they could be supported to thrive and reach their potential.
Our new Girls Speak report, to be published this November, will shine a light on hidden educational inequality (as well as failed contact with other public services) and put forward policy recommendations for improvement.
We share four ways girls in education are currently being let down:
1. Mixed white and Black Caribbean girls are three times more likely to be excluded from school as their white counterparts.
Our research shows that racial stereotyping and discrimination leads to disproportionate treatment for mixed white and Black Caribbean young women in the school system. Practitioners we spoke to warned that girls who misbehave can be treated more punitively than boys because they are contravening gender norms. For Black and minoritised girls, this is exacerbated by racial bias, including, for example, the process of ‘adultification’, whereby they are viewed as more mature and ‘less innocent’ than their white peers. Indeed, in the academic year 2020-2021, mixed white and Black Caribbean girls were permanently excluded at three times the rate of their white British counterparts.
2. Girls who are excluded from education are often dealing with multiple unmet needs, including struggling with mental health, poverty, discrimination and abuse.
High levels of need, including poor mental health, often underlie behavioural issues. Many of the young women we have spoken to attribute their exclusion to poor mental health, stemming from experiences of violence, abuse and trauma. Growing rates of self-harm and suicidality in girls and young women highlight this mental health crisis amongst young women. The ‘disruptive’ behaviour which can lead to a girl’s exclusion must be examined in light of this and responded to with strategies and interventions for support, rather than punishment.
3. Once excluded from mainstream education, girls can go on to face further disadvantage.
Once excluded from mainstream education, girls can go on to face further disadvantage, including gender-specific risks of sexual harassment, abuse and exploitation in male-dominated alternative provision, such as pupil referral units (PRUs). Being excluded should be a warning sign that things are going wrong in a girl’s life and if specialist support is not in place, challenges girls face risk becoming more complex and entrenched. However, policies, strategies and funding streams continually fail to recognise the needs and experiences of girls and young women.
4. The Department for Education does not separate its data on exclusions, making it impossible to discern gendered and racialised trends.
Concerningly, we were only able to identify the above exclusion trends by submitting Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. This is because the Department for Education (DfE) still does not publically share its data on exclusions by both sex and ethnicity, making it impossible to discern gendered and racialised trends. As such, Agenda calls on the DfE to routinely publish its suspensions and exclusions data in a way that enables analysis by age, sex and ethnicity. This will be vital in ensuring the needs of girls are met and in reducing racial disproportionality.
To learn more about our Girls Speak campaign, visit our project page.