Today
Sat 23 October 2021

A new report into school exclusions of black and ethnic minority girls exposes again how the Government is wrong to deny systemic racism in the UK

Black and ethnic minority girls are more than twice as likely to be excluded from school as their white counterparts, new research has found.

The report on racial disparities in English schools was published by Agenda, an alliance of more than 50 charities campaigning for women and girls at risk. 

In response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted by Agenda, the Department for Education revealed that, in the 2019/2020 academic year, exclusion rates for black Caribbean girls were double those for white British girls. 

Girls from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities were four times more likely to be permanently excluded and sent to pupil referral units or alternative provision. 

The study also shows that rates of permanent exclusions of girls rose by 66% in the five years prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, compared to a rise of 27% for boys. 

Agenda’s chief executive, Jemima Olchawski, told Byline Times: “In our research, girls and young women spoke to us really consistently about the issues that led to them being excluded being about poor mental health and about unaddressed experiences of violence, harassment and abuse both in and out of school.”

The report provides more evidence contradicting the Government’s insistence that structural racism is not an issue in the UK and that white working class boys are systematically disadvantaged in the education system.

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‘No One Ever Asked’

Laila was just 13 when she was permanently excluded from school. “There was a lot going on, but no one ever asked,” she said. 

At 11 years old, she started to remember the sexual abuse that she had suffered as a young child and tried to tell people in authority but was ignored. 

Laila’s home life was chaotic. Alongside her schoolwork, she was expected to care for her sick mum and had a sibling with mental health problems. Some of her older siblings were in and out of prison because of their involvement in gangs. 

At the time of her exclusion, Laila had already been groomed by a ‘county lines’ gang to transport illegal drugs from one area to another. She would leave school early on a Friday, spend the weekend moving drugs across the country, and arrive back at school on Monday morning. Even when she turned up with bruises and black eyes, social services failed to intervene. 

Laila believes that she might not have slipped through the net if she had been white.

“I definitely think race plays a part in it,” she said. “The word ‘tough’ used to get thrown around all the time. ‘You’re tough, you’re alright, you’ll get through it’. I think that because minorities have already been through so much trauma historically, there’s a sort of attitude towards us that we can get through this as well.”

Race also affected Maria’s experience in the education system. She was excluded multiple times for missing lessons and being disruptive at school.

“I just felt like I gained a stereotype,” she said. “Like ‘loud, black girl’, and that really is not tolerated. Instead of being asked ‘what’s going on, are you okay?’”

Had someone asked her, they would have found out that Maria was living a “hell” after a sexual image was shared with classmates without her consent. 

Now 19, Laila has escaped the gang that trafficked her, but admits she is an exception. “I managed to turn my life around but many other young women don’t,” she said. “My old youth worker reached out to me with a job and that’s when I started to try and get my life back on track.”

Exclusion can have damaging, long-term effects on people’s lives, including poor mental health and educational attainment. There is also a connection between exclusion and the criminal justice system: more than 40% of prisoners have been permanently excluded from school. 

Jemima Olchawski told Byline Times that there need to be structures in place so that such negative experiences aren’t ignored. 

“Rather than letting issues go unaddressed, unspoken and ignored and things spiralling out of control, we need to get in there upstream and offer proper specialist support to girls,” she said.

She is pushing for support run by, and for, black and minority women and girls; and help that is gender and trauma informed. 

Agenda also wants more information on school exclusions. The charity is asking the Department for Education to regularly publish data on race and ethnicity so that decision-makers can have a thorough understanding on how particular groups are at greater risk of permanent exclusion. 

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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