On Saturday 25th November, Hackney Rep hosted an event at Hackney Quest (Well Street) highlighting the impact of school exclusions on young peoples mental health as part of Hackney Mental Health Week.
Rates of school exclusion in Hackney vastly exceed those across London and have significant negative impacts on children and young people’s mental health. We wanted to bring attention to the importance of schools behaviour policies and approach to education impacts our children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
Attended by new Mayor of Hackney Caroline Woodley, and Hackney Speaker of the house Anya Sizer among others from local organisations and schools, this was an important opportunity to highlight how negative school experiences impact young peoples wellbeing.
We began by showing research undertaken by Hackney Quests Researcher Luke Bellingham for Hackney REP on school exclusion and suspension data in Hackney.
– The suspension rate in Hackney secondaries has far exceeded the Inner London and Outer London rates consistently since 2006.
– The suspension rate among students entitled to Free Schools Meals in Hackney secondaries for has also far exceeded Inner London and Outer London rates consistently since 2006.
– When you compare the rate of suspension among students with an SEN statement in secondary schools in Hackney with the Inner and Outer London rates, the difference is even more stark – in 2021/22 it was more than double the London rates.
– Students entitled to Free School Meals have around double the rate of suspension in Hackney secondary schools compared to those not entitled to Free School Meals.
– Students with SEN have a significantly higher rate of suspension in Hackney secondary schools compared to those who do not have SEN. The rate among students with an SEN statement has tended to be between three and five times the rate among students without any recorded SEN.
This data is really shocking, and while attendees expected high exclusions, Mayor of Hackney and Speaker of Hackney were shocked with the disparity in rates across London and very concerned with the doubled rate of suspension of those entitled to Free School Meals.
We launch the ‘Words Matter Campaign’ taking a closer look at the profound life-changing impact words can have on children and young people’s mental health and their lifelong view of themselves.
Then we showed our ‘Words Matter Campaign‘, a collaboration with Mouth That Roars (MTR), an independent not for profit youth media organisation based in Hackney, which created short videos produced, directed and acted by young people, to highlight some of the key issues that are affecting young people’s mental health in mainstream education.
They produced 6 video shorts covering topics including racism, negative words, detention for lateness, humiliation and exclusion, of experiences they have had in mainstream education. Creating these films gave voice and power to marginalised young people who are often mis or under-represented within society. We want these videos to be seen by education providers, teachers, decision makers, people in power and the wider community and will prompt them to evaluate and change their behaviour to prevent harming and belittling young people.
This prompted discussion among attendees about children and young PEOPLE’S mental health and how to ensure that school remains a safe, humanistic, police free space.
- ‘We must ensure a whole family approach, and acknowledge that behaviour is communication from young poeple, we should acknowledge and address what young people are communicating.’
- An attendee who works as a counsellor to young people at risk of exploitation by gangs shared he had seen an increase depression and anxiety over the last year, in part as a result of COVID lockdowns resulting in a breakdown in their relationships with peers, causing loss of support and connection resulting in pathways to further trouble (gangs). This highlighted how important schools are for young people and the safe space role they play. He noted a link between exclusion and gang activity, further evidenced by this Guardian research.
- ‘Exclusion results in increased anxiety, despression and trauma, mental health gets worse if you are exlcuded.’
- ‘Exclusions have such a wide ranging impacts and are a trigger for so many adverse experiences, not addressing them is negligence.’
- ‘ [The] system is creating mental ill health in young people, not preparing people for life. Where do you go when you are exlcuded? The years of high school are so dramatic and informative in young peoples lives without the risk of school exclusion. We are failing young people.’
- ‘Schools focus too much on good results, but this isnt the most important thing, happy educational experiences create the best outcomes.’ ‘ Focus on results creates unecessary anxiety’
- ‘Why don’t we offer functional skills for young people?’
- ‘The [education] system isn’t set up for young people.’
- ‘Our young people are telling us about the racism they are experiencing [in school] and how they cannot challenge this as they get punished.’
- ‘We have an anti racist strategy in Hackney and we need to make sure we are using this in our approach to schools and education.’
- ‘Where is young peoples voice in their education?’
- One attendee who supports young people at a youth club shared how often young people tell her that they have been told they can’t do, or can’t be something. One example was a young person who wanted to study science at university, but was being disallowed from studying Chemistry at A-Level due to not getting the gade the school mandated. She supported this young person to write a letter explaining why this was important to her and the school eventually agreed to allow her to study this. She then went on to study science at university.
- We discussed how young people with SEND are being failed in education and not accessing the right support.
Our discussion highlighted the importance of whole person centered support which looks at young people with holistic context to understand and address their needs. Hackney REP and its partners provides adovcacy which empowers young people and their families to understand their challanges and address them, this is essential in addressing school exclusions and poor mental health in young people.
Insights and discussion from this event will be fed shared to the Education and Mental Health teams in Hackney Council, Mayoress of Hackney, Cabinet for Education, Children’s Services and Young People.
Outcomes of this session
This conversation highlighted a number of factors impacting young peoples mental health including school exclusions, lockdowns, social isolation and their living situation. In Hackney, the community and voluntary sector (VCS) provides expert prevenative support to children, young people and their families, this was acknowledged by the Mayoress of Hackney. We agreed that we need to ensure the VCS and Hakcney Council/Education are well connected with good insight sharing mechanisms. Thanks to the attendance of the Mayoress and Speaker of Hackney, they are now aware of these issues and opportunities and have expressed commitment in supporting Hackney REP to challenge school exclusions and commitment to supporting positive change within education in Hackney. Hackney REP will continue to work with the Council to establish co-production mechanisms and ensure we can influence change and make sure we are aware of what work each partner is undertaking.
We also agreed on the importance of youth voice in addressing issues and identifying solutions. As a result of this event, Hackney REP have been invited to take a panel of young people to the Council in January to share their experiences and ideas for change.
Luke Bellingham will continue to develop his research on school exclusions to break them down to include ethnicity and school year. He will share this research with Helena Burke and Kate Cracknell (Hackney Education) to ensure the Council understands the severity of this situation.