The ‘Adultification’ of Black Children in Schools

Black children are still three times as likely than white children to be excluded from school according to a recent report by the Commission for Young Lives.

One of the main reasons for this is what the report calls the ‘adulfication’ of black children – where teachers (and other authority figures such as the police) tend to see black children as being older and less innocent than children from other ethnic minority backgrounds. This enables those in power to justify treating black children more harshly.

This recent research is relevant to the sociology of education, and especially the continued relevance of labelling theory in explaining differential exclusion rates.

Different exclusion rates

Exclusion rates saw an overall increase in the decade up to 2019, before the socially chosen reaction to the Pandemic (i.e. Lockdown which included school closures) made comparisons of such trends more difficult.

Immediately prior to the Pandemic, some types of student were much more likely to be excluded than others.

Depressingly not that much seems to have changed since the 1990!

Why are some children more likely to be excluded than others?

There are different reasons depending on each case, but one thing the report highlights is the ‘adultification’ of black children.

This is where authority figures such as teachers tend to see black children, both boys and girls, as more grown up and less innocent than white children. Thus they think they are more responsible for their actions and this can justify the harsher punishments they receive for deviant behaviour, such as being excluded.

The report also includes a story from a mother of a boy with Autism which documents his journey of being labelled with ‘behavioural difficulties’ in school, to being temporarily and then permanently excluded.

The boy moved to a Pupil Referral Unit, then back to mainstream education, but his mother and the school kind of lost track of him during the Pandemic somehow, he got involved with ‘the wrong friends’, possibly gang and drug connected, and ended up murdering someone before he turned 16.

in this case the mother claimed that the school system let her son down through inadequate provision for his special educational needs.

The consequences of being excluded

While it’s not a path set in stone the report notes that 60% of young people getting court orders and 60% of those in prison have been excluded from school.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean one causes the other, there are multiple factors at work in such pathways!

Sources:

Commission for Young Lives (2022) All Together Now: Inclusion not exclusion: supporting all young people to succeed in school.

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