AGENDA ALLIANCE has discovered that growing numbers of Black Caribbean girls were excluded or suspended from school during 2021/22.

Data obtained from the UK Department of Education via Freedom of Information requests has found that in the 2021/22 academic year, girls from a Black Caribbean background were excluded at double the rate of white British girls from schools in England.

Agenda Alliance has also found that girls from Traveller of Irish Heritage backgrounds, and Gypsy/Roma girls, are being disproportionately excluded and suspended from schools. Exclusions have particularly affected Gypsy/Roma girls, who have been consistently excluded at a considerably higher rate than white British girls over the period 2018 – 2022.

This news comes as exclusions generally have risen beyond pre-pandemic levels and shortly after the government launched a crackdown on unauthorised absences from school.

Agenda Alliance’s data analysis demonstrates school discipline policies are disproportionately impacting girls from ethnic minority backgrounds, and sparks concerns new absenteeism measures may intensify the issue:

Exclusions during 2021/2022

  • White British girls were excluded at a rate of  0.06
  • Black Caribbean girls were excluded at double the rate of white British girls, at 0.12.
  • Mixed white and Black Caribbean girls were excluded at more than double the rate of white British girls at  0.14
  • Travellers of Irish Heritage girls were excluded at three times the rate of white British girls at  0.18
  • Gypsy/Roma girls were excluded at just under three times the rate of white British girls at 0.15.

1800 girls were excluded in 2021-22, up considerably from the year before.

Suspensions during 2021/2022 tell a similar story:

  • White British girls were suspended at a rate of  5.66
  • Travellers of Irish Heritage girls were suspended at double the rate of white British girls at 11.49
  • Gypsy/Roma girls were suspended at over three times the rate of white British girls at 18.86
  • Mixed white and Black Caribbean girls were suspended at just under double the rate of white British girls at  9.73

Suspensions are a particular concern for government in its bid to improve school attendance. Being suspended is a key driver of absenteeism and girls – especially those in poverty (eligible for free school meals) – have been found to be most at risk of staying away from school.

Agenda Alliance says:

  • Schools must adopt improved behavioural policies, addressing how gender and racial stereotypes (such as ‘adultification’) are disproportionately impacting girls.
  • All specialist staff working with children who have been or are at risk of exclusion must be trained to deliver support that is responsive to culture, gender, age and trauma.
  • Any responses to high rates of absenteeism must avoid unnecessarily punitive approaches, and instead work to address the root causes of girls’ absence from school. They should be co-produced with young women and the specialist organisations that support them.

Violet, aged 16 said: “When I was at school, I felt misunderstood and invisible, like they didn’t care, or believe in me enough. Things were bad at school and sometimes things were bad at home but nobody ever gave me support…. When I was permanently excluded – just before my GCSEs – I didn’t know who I was going to be or what I’d do.

“I think there’s stigma around Black British girls – we’re treated differently with perceptions about us. We’re often punished just for being different. We get told off for the way uniforms look on our bodies, but they’re just not made for our body types and don’t fit us in the same way as white girls. Also, sometimes Black girls just have an opinion and it’s then taken as aggressive, or we’re just labelled ‘rude’. I could do the same thing as a white girl and I would get in 10 times more trouble.

“I got referred to Milk Honey Bees, [specialist charity] who worked with me and reassured me that it’s okay to be myself, without judging me from stuff on my form but going off my relationship with them. Now I see there’s a lot more I can offer in the world but, at school when I was excluded, I felt like if my school has given up on me, why should I believe in myself?”

Indy Cross, Chief Executive of Agenda Alliance said: “These are extremely worrying findings. We at Agenda Alliance are calling for a zero tolerance to harmful behaviour policies which blight girls’ futures. We know schools do a tough job and that teachers are hard pressed. But by the government’s own measure, girls at the sharpest end of disadvantage are being set up to fail. Racial and gender stereotypes have no place in today’s education for young women. Enough is enough. No more excuses that poverty also inevitably jeopardises education. We can – and must – do better than this.”

Ebinehita Iyere, Founder and Managing Director of Milk Honey Bees, which supports excluded Black and mixed white and Black African and Caribbean girls and those at risk of exclusion, said: “Unfortunately, Black / mixed Black girls continue to fall under the radar. Schools, at times, do not understand or care to understand the needs, especially the emotional needs, of Black / mixed Black Girls. This leads to behaviour not being viewed as a flag for potential undiagnosed issues or difficult experiences outside of school. What this means is time and again they’re not receiving the right therapeutic support to help them achieve their potential educationally or with their wellbeing. At Milk Honey Bees, we will continuously advocate for the urgent need to understand the full complex set of experiences of Black / mixed Black girls in schools.

“In my experience as a practitioner, racial biases are applied resulting in harsher punishment for things such as uniform or lateness. As an organisation, we are calling for support from policymakers, schools, funders and our wider community to understand and foster positive relationships between teachers and Black girls to stop them being marginalised by the education system. Only a joined up therapeutic approach will work. Creating safe spaces for Black girls to heal from their traumatic schooling experiences must be a priority, in order to prevent further risk of exclusion.”

Pauline Anderson OBE, Chair of Trustees with the Traveller Movement said: “We see again and again through our casework the link between racist bullying and school exclusions. Too often, Romani (Gypsy), Roma, and Irish Traveller children who are experiencing bullying in schools resort to retaliation as schools do not stand up for them, resulting in exclusion.

“Schools are legally required to have behaviour policies in place that address race-based bullying, yet these educational institutions are continuing to fail to protect our children. We need to see a zero-tolerance policy for racist bullying in schools from both pupils and staff. For our young girls, the combined discrimination of racism and ableism as well as sexism has a detrimental impact on them. Many schools are failing to provide ‘Education Health and Care Plans’ (EHCPs) for young Romani (Gypsy), Roma, and Irish Travellers, meaning they go through their school careers bullied, misunderstood, and frustrated.”

Daniel Kebede, General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “The data reinforces what educational charities, trade unions and professionals have been saying for years: that the toxic combination of financial cuts, staffing shortages, increasing class sizes and punitive disciplinary measures is severely impacting young people’s educational prospects.

“These disproportionate rates of exclusion signal that educational institutions are failing young people who belong to minoritised groups. Existing policies for behaviour and attendance are insensitive to issues of ‘race’ and gender and are not working. The proposals made by Agenda Alliance are a serious and constructive alternative.”

* Source: Agenda Alliance