More than 150 Wigan pupils excluded from schools for breaching Covid-19 rules

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Breaches of coronavirus rules were behind more than 150 school exclusions in Wigan last year, new figures reveal.

Department for Education data shows "wilful and repeated transgression of protective measures" was a reason behind 156 exclusions from schools in Wigan in the 2020-21 academic year – 155 of which were temporary exclusions and one permanent.

Of these, 132 were in secondary schools, 22 in primary schools and two in special schools.

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Children across England were excluded 12,965 times for reasons including non-compliance with social distancing, causing distress such as by purposefully coughing near to others, or any other deliberate breach of a school's public health measures.

Hand sanitiser in a classroom during the pandemicHand sanitiser in a classroom during the pandemic
Hand sanitiser in a classroom during the pandemic

Schools were able to list multiple reasons for each exclusion for the first time last year.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said schools worked very hard to keep pupils and staff safe during the pandemic, and it is not unreasonable that young people should be expected to comply with these measures.

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However, Stephen Morgan, Labour’s shadow schools minister, said: “The Conservatives have created deep divides in school exclusions, with the lack of clear guidance, especially during the pandemic, threatening children’s futures and failing communities.

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“The Government’s own independent review highlights the need to tackle exclusions and ensure children are supported in order to improve life chances.

“No parent wants to see their child excluded from school but once again the Conservatives have treated our children and their future opportunities as an afterthought.”

In Wigan, there were a total of 2,121 exclusions (2,078 temporary and 43 permanent) for all reasons last year – up from 2,082 in 2019-20.

Figures for the most recent academic year include a period in spring 2021 when Covid-19 restrictions meant that only key worker and vulnerable children were attending school in person, with others being educated remotely.

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Of the 16 possible reasons for exclusion, public health was the fifth most frequent.

The most common reasons were for persistent disruptive behaviour (34 per cent), verbal abuse or threatening behaviour towards an adult (20 per cent) and physical assault against a pupil (14 per cent).

The National Association of Headteachers said schools following guidance were sometimes forced to suspend students in cases of persistent rule breaking and unsafe behaviour, with school leaders making tough decisions to keep everyone safe.

General secretary Paul Whiteman said exclusions are always a last resort – and have fallen to an all-time low across England – but should not mean the end of the road for pupils affected.

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He added: "Unfortunately cuts to health and social care services mean that the safety net for excluded young people has too many holes in it.

"This is something that the Government should address urgently.”

A Department for Education spokesman said permanent exclusions are a rare but necessary way of managing behaviour – but should not mean exclusion from education.

A spokesman for Wigan Council said schools had their own risks assessments and behaviour policies, and issued their own sanctions in response to breaches.