More children in Hartlepool are being excluded for racist abuse

A school playground.A school playground.
A school playground.
Schools in Hartlepool are excluding increasing numbers of children for racist abuse, new data has revealed.

A leading anti-racism campaign group has warned that England’s classrooms are feeling the effects of racist opinions becoming “mainstream” in wider society.

The warning came after a particularly sharp increase in racism-related exclusions, which have been going up every year over the past five years.

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In the 2016-17 academic year, schools in Hartlepool handed out 15 exclusions to children who had engaged in racist abuse, which could include behaviour such as racist bullying, graffiti or derogatory remarks.

This was five times as many as the previous year, when three such exclusions were recorded.

The growth came despite the fact that the population of Hartlepool’s schools shrunk between 2015 and 2017, meaning exclusions are now more prevalent relative to the number of schoolchildren.

The picture in Hartlepool mirrors the national trend, with schools in England handing out 4,590 exclusions for racist abuse last year, up 21% from 2012-13 when it was 3,790.

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Almost all of these were temporary exclusions, which are known as fixed-period exclusions.

Only 25 children were excluded permanently as a result of racist abuse, although this figure is the highest it has been for five years.

Owen Jones, head of education at campaign group Hope Not Hate, said that part of the increase could be the result of better understanding of race issues in schools, with teachers becoming more effective at spotting “more nuanced” forms of racism.

However, he also warned that wider societal attitudes and the rise of extreme content online are having an impact on younger generations.

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“I feel that we are seeing what is happening in wider society occurring in schools,” he said.

“There are certainly fewer racists about and the young generations are certainly more open-minded than other ones.

“However, with the mainstreaming of lots of racist opinion, those who do hold racist opinions feel more confident bringing it up in the classroom than they would a decade ago.

“Also, with the ease of access to very extreme opinion online – YouTube for instance – which not only empower young people to express these views, but also give them the arguments to back themselves up.”

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A spokesman for the Department for Education said it was right that headteachers should use exclusions to tackle racism when necessary.

He said: “Racism has absolutely no place in our schools and is completely unacceptable.

“All schools must have measures in place to tackle bullying, including racist bullying, and we have made sure headteachers have the power to take swift action to tackle this sort of behaviour, including through exclusions where appropriate.”

Overall exclusions are also on the increase in Hartlepool’s schools, rising to 1,509 in 2016-17 – the equivalent of around four exclusions every day.

This represents an increase of 401% in just five years.

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In England, exclusions numbered around 389,600 in 2016-17, up from 346,000 the previous year.

This represents an increase from 4.4 exclusions per 100 pupils to 4.9.

The vast majority were on account of “persistent disruptive behaviour”.

Ministers from the cross-party House of Commons education committee have described the increase in exclusions as “alarming” and “a scandal”.

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They have called for a “bill of rights” for pupils and their parents, which will include a commitment that schools do not rush to exclude pupils.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “Schools should only use permanent exclusions as a last resort but we do support teachers in taking proportionate and measured steps to ensure good behaviour in schools.

“Whilst we know there has been an increase in exclusions there are still fewer than the peak ten years ago.

“We recognise some groups of pupils are more likely to be excluded than others which is why we launched an externally-led review to look at how schools are using exclusions and why certain groups are disproportionately affected.”