Concern at rise in number of exclusions for drug and alcohol issues

Schools in Wigan have excluded pupils for drug and alcohol issues on dozens of occasions, figures reveal.

Friday, 26th March 2021, 1:17 pm
Dozens of pupils have been excluded from school

A rise in the number of exclusions across England has prompted the creation of a new cross-party group of MPs, to reduce avoidable expulsions of vulnerable children.

Department for Education figures show Wigan schools excluded students 57 times for drug and alcohol-related issues in 2018-19 – two permanently and 55 temporarily.

However, this was a decrease on the year before, when there were 60. The vast majority (49) of exclusions occurred in state-funded secondary schools, but there were eight in special schools and none in primary schools.

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They were among a record 12,180 drug and alcohol-related exclusions across England – an increase of 17 per cent on the year before.

The National Association for Children of Alcoholics said the statistics were “worrying”, and unless the underlying causes were addressed the number excluded may continue to rise.

Dr Piers Henriques, head of communications at the charity, said: “So often, for young people, substance misuse occurs as a coping mechanism for wider challenges, such as mental health problems or family discord. School exclusion will be justified in individual cases.

“However, it is only with improved support and inclusion for young people with hard lives that we will begin to see these numbers fall.

“We need better, earlier interventions in schools that seek to support rather than bluntly punish young people.”

The total number of exclusions nationwide also increased between 2017-18 and 2018-19, from 419,000 to 446,000, prompting the formation of an all-party parliamentary group on exclusions in recent months.

The Centre for Social Justice, which will act as secretariat for the group, said the future looks “desperately bleak” for many children forced out of school.

James Scales, head of education at the CSJ, said: “Just 4% of pupils who sit their GCSEs in alternative providers get a standard pass in English and maths.

“By bringing together cross-party voices and sector leaders, this new parliamentary group gives us a chance to put that right – both by acting earlier to reduce avoidable exclusions and by being more ambitious for excluded pupils.”

There were 2,445 total exclusions in Wigan in 2018-19, an increase of 18% on the year before, when there were 2,064.

A DfE spokesman said: “We are clear that expulsion should only be used as a last resort, and should not mean exclusion from high quality education or support.

“We will always back headteachers to use expulsion when required as part of creating calm and disciplined classrooms, which bring out the best in every pupil.”

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