The disproportionality of fixed-term exclusions

It’s well documented that British children of Black Caribbean heritage are three times more likely to be permanently excluded from school than their White British peers, and that even after controlling for factors like poverty and prior attainment, they are still disproportionately excluded by a rate of 1.7.

However, what isn’t so widely reported on, is the massive discrepancy between the parts of the country where this happens.

Analysis by the IntegratED programme, based on today’s exclusions data, shows that in the worst area, they are almost six times more likely to experience multiple suspensions from school (known as “fixed-term exclusions”) – which are known to be a precursor to permanent exclusion.

We’ve decided to focus on multiple fixed-term exclusions for two reasons: first, when you start to look at smaller geographical areas, the numbers become too small to show statistically significant patterns. When you are looking at permanent exclusions, one local authority may have five permanent exclusions of pupils of Black Caribbean heritage one year and then zero the following year. These numbers are so volatile, so we have decided to not use permanent exclusions for our analysis of local trends.

Second, the official data on permanent exclusions misses off some areas of the country, as some local authorities run a “zero exclusions” policy where pupils are moved off-roll with no official permanent exclusion being recorded. Others keep excluded children on a “dual roll” system with their mainstream school, meaning that they are also lost from the official statistics. We’ve therefore chosen multiple (meaning more than one in an academic year) fixed-term exclusions as a better proxy for the relative rates of exclusions from school in different areas of the country .

The new data released today shows that nationally, pupils from minority ethnic groups are more likely than their White British peers to experience multiple fixed-term exclusions. Whereas 2.5 per 100 White British pupils experienced multiple fixed-term exclusions, our analysis shows that the rate for pupils from minority ethnic groups is much higher.

In the 2018/19 academic year:

  • 7.8 per 100 Gypsy/Roma pupils experienced multiple fixed-term exclusions;
  • 6.7 per 100 Traveller of Irish heritage pupils experienced multiple fixed-term exclusions;
  • 6.0 per 100 pupils of Black Caribbean heritage experienced multiple fixed-term exclusions; and
  • 5.0 per 100 pupils of mixed White and Black Caribbean heritage experienced multiple fixed-term exclusions.

To assess the relative likelihoods of exclusion, we looked at the relative odds ratio of exclusions. This analysis lets us approximate how many times more likely pupils from different ethnic groups are to experience multiple fixed-term exclusions, relative to pupils who are White British.

As the below graph shows, nationally, pupils from minority ethnic groups are disproportionately excluded when compared to their White British peers.

Our findings suggest:

  • Pupils who are Gypsy/Roma are 3.2 times more likely to experience multiple fixed-term exclusions;
  • Pupils who are travellers of Irish heritage are 2.7 times more likely to experience multiple fixed-term exclusions;
  • Pupils of Black Caribbean heritage are 2.4 times more likely to experience multiple fixed-term exclusions; and
  • Pupils of White and Black Caribbean heritage are 2.0 times more likely to experience multiple fixed-term exclusions.

It should be noted that this analysis does not control for other factors that may affect a pupil’s chances of exclusion. However, both the Timpson Review and Education DataLab conducted similar analyses recently, looking at permanent exclusions.

They found that, when controlling for other factors, the relative odds ratios are somewhat reduced. In the case of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils, the Timpson review found that the disproportionality reduces considerably, however the odds of exclusion remain stacked against pupils who are from Black Caribbean and White and Black Caribbean ethnic groups.

Whilst these findings alone are cause for concern, the latest figures out today give an insight into where in the country pupils from minority ethnic groups are facing the highest levels of disproportionate exclusion.

** It should be noted that we have removed from the analysis the local authorities with fewer than 100 pupils of the given ethnic minority, as their pupil population size is too small to give us reliable data. Due to the small numbers of Traveller pupils we were only able to identify 14 local authorities with a high enough pupil population to conduct our analysis. **

According to our analysis, last year there were 48 local authorities where a pupil who is Gypsy/Roma is at least twice as likely to experience a multiple fixed-term exclusion. In Sheffield, pupils who are Gypsy/Roma are 9.0 times more likely than their White British peers, to face multiple fixed-term exclusions.

We also identified 47 local authorities where a pupil of Black Caribbean heritage is at least twice as likely to experience a multiple fixed-term exclusion. In Gloucestershire, pupils of Black Caribbean heritage are 5.6 times more likely than their White British peers, to face multiple fixed-term exclusions.

Similarly, we found 62 local authorities where a pupil of White and Black Caribbean heritage is at least twice as likely to experience a multiple fixed-term exclusion. In Wokingham, pupils of Black Caribbean heritage are 4.5 times more likely than their White British peers, to face multiple fixed-term exclusions.

The Timpson review aimed to analyse the reasons why some groups of children are disproportionately excluded but didn’t draw firm conclusions. The review did, however, make two recommendations to address this.

First, it recommended that the Department for Education extend funding to equality and diversity hubs at a level that widens their reach and impact. The hubs are an initiative to increase the diversity of senior leadership teams in schools through training and support for underrepresented groups.

The government said it would consider this recommendation as part of the spending review process, which was postponed and has now been rescheduled for September 2020.

Second, it recommended that governing bodies, academy trusts and local forums of schools should review information on children who leave their schools, by exclusion or otherwise, and understand how such moves feed into local trends. They should work together to identify where patterns indicate possible concerns or gaps in provision, and use this information to ensure they are effectively planning to meet the needs of all children.”

In response, the government committed to include in its updated school exclusion guidance the expectation that information on local trends regarding characteristics of excluded children “should be used to inform improvements in practice and reduce disparities in exclusion rates amongst those groups more likely to be excluded”. This guidance is yet to be updated.