Girls are being informally excluded at a higher rate than boys from some schools in England, but their experiences are invisible as they are not included in official school exclusion statistics, a study suggests.
While boys are much more likely to be formally excluded, the research shows that girls are being excluded through moves to other schools or early exit, which means they leave before the end of year 11 but do not finish school elsewhere.
Experts are concerned there are not the same accountability checks in the case of these informal methods of exclusion and girls may be missing out on support that pupils are entitled to via the official exclusions route.
The study by Social Finance, a not-for-profit group that seeks solutions to social problems, focuses on exclusions in Cheshire West and Chester, but researchers say the findings have national implications, with latest exclusions data due to be published later this month.
The research showed that three quarters of formal exclusions, both permanent and fixed-term, involved boys. In the case of “early exits” however, which is one of the so-called informal exclusion routes, the rate among boys was just over 4% while among girls it was just under 6%.
Sara Parsonage, Social Finance associate director, said the report’s findings revealed a possible blind spot in national statistics. “We looked beyond the narrow definition of exclusions as permanent or fixed-term, to uncover the ‘invisible’ experience of informal exclusions such as early exits and absenteeism.
“If this is a national problem it is unlikely to have been spotted because informal exclusions are not recorded consistently. For this reason, we believe it is likely this is not a localised issue but rather a national one, which is why we are calling on the government, both nationally and locally, to adopt a more comprehensive definition of exclusion to avoid blindspots.”
The study found that pupils with experience of social care were more likely to experience all forms of exclusion; 15% of vulnerable children experienced 58% of multiple fixed-term exclusions and pupils with special education needs were eight times more likely to be permanently excluded.
Exclusion rates in Cheshire West and Chester are below the national average, but after seeing an increase in 2017/18 and noticing a change in the nature of exclusions the council partnered with Social Finance to try to understand who was at risk of exclusion and how best to support them.
Robert Cernik, cabinet member for children and families at Cheshire West and Chester council, warned of the risks involved with informal exclusions. “Formal permanent exclusions rely on a panel decision made with involvement from the school, governors, the council and the child’s parent/carer.
“The decision is recorded in schools’ data, along with the reason for exclusion. This can trigger support for the child and parents or carers have the right to request a review of the decision.
“‘Informal’ exclusions do not result in flags against a child’s name in the way formal ones do. But they also do not result in the same processes that provide accountability checks and balances for the child and parent/carer. This means girls may be missing out on support available to excluded children.”
Whitney Crenna-Jennings, senior researcher in mental health, wellbeing and inclusion at the Education Policy Institute, said that at a national level EPI research had found that girls are as likely as boys to have unexplained exits from school, but are far less likely to be formally excluded.
“We can’t say for certain why more girls are informally excluded in Chester but the association between experiencing an informal exclusion and social, emotional and mental health difficulties – and evidence that girls are more likely to experience mental illness in adolescence – provides some clues.
“It’s possible that mental health difficulties lead to problems in school, but not of the sort that attract disciplinary measures, which are more closely associated with boys – going against the gendered pattern we see in formal exclusion statistics.”
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