School exclusion and the restorative justice solution

School exclusions are on the rise

As an Associate with the RJ4All Institute, I felt passionate about the topic and hence this blog. During my London placement at the Institute, I found out that 6,685 young people were formally excluded from schools across England.[1] This figure is a 40 per cent increase from the previous three years. I also found out that one in two excluded pupils has a recognised mental health need, eight out of ten have a special education need or a disability, and excluded children are four times as likely to be from the country’s most economically disadvantaged families.[2] Unofficial exclusions are not accounted for in government reports. In their 2017 analysis, the Institute for Public Policy Research maintained that a ‘total of 48,000 pupils’ or ‘one in every 200 pupils in the country’ is ‘educated outside of mainstream education or in special schools at some point in the academic year’ and concluded that ‘it is clear that official statistics grossly underestimate the scale of the challenge of exclusion.’[3]

School exclusions have long-term consequences. While serving a disciplinary purpose within schools, their use can have follow-on effects on a larger social scale. Internationally, research consistently points to a ‘school to prison pipeline’.[4] It would appear that disengagement from education is a key indicator of future contact with the criminal justice system both at a young age and later in life.[5] School exclusions can be socially harmful, re-entrench disadvantage, and pave the way for future disadvantage too. It follows that they should reasonably be avoided or at the least, reduced.

The restorative justice offer

Since the 1990s, internationally, schools have been utilising restorative practices as an effective alternative to traditional disciplinary tactics. Restorative practices in schools are premised on ‘accountability, restitution and restoration of community’, employing ‘varying models of conferences, mediations and circles’, and centre on repairing relationships within schools, be they between students and teachers or within the school community.[6] It is in some senses antithetic