Posted on Leave a comment

Nine criticisms of the theory that school exclusions are to blame for knife crime

Last week, senior police chiefs wrote to Theresa May arguing that there was a link between the increase in the number of formal school exclusions and ‘off-rolling’ (where heads informally get parents to withdraw their children, without them being formally recorded as ‘permanently excluded’) and an increase in knife crime.

The theory is that those excluded or off-rolled are more likely to ‘drift’ because they are less effectively cared for and monitored in alternative provision institutions. The problem is believed to be especially bad for those who are off-rolled. When a pupil is off-rolled, the parents are responsible for finding alternative provision, and it is their kids who are much more likely to end up out of education altogether.

If we look at the stats, there does seem to be a correlation between the increase in school exclusions and the increase in knife crime:

School exclusions have been increasing since 2013

Knife crime has been increasing since 2015

And regionally:

HOWEVER, it is a well-known mantra in sociology that correlation doesn’t mean causation, and there is very good reason to think that this is the case here.

Numerous commentators (see below for links) have criticised the police for suggesting there is a causal link between the increase in exclusions and the increase in knife crime, and here’s a summary of why we should be critical…

Nine criticisms of the ‘school exclusions cause knife crime’ theory

  1. For starters, even with the above crude statistics there isn’t a perfect correlation – it’s true that London has a higher exclusion rate and knife crime rate than any other city, but then the West Midlands has a higher knife crime rate than Yorkshire and Humber, but a lower exclusion rate.
  2. The above data only includes formal exclusions, not off-rolling, so we don’t get a full picture (there are validity issues) – true, it might be more likely that someone who is off-rolled turns to knife crime compared to someone who is formally excluded, but I these figures don’t show us the off-rolling.
  3. This government report from June 2018 which examined the relationship between educational background and knife crime found that ‘knife possession rarely followed exclusion’.
  4. There may be another cause behind both ‘being excluded from school’ and ‘being convicted of knife crime’ – possibly rooted further in the past of these individuals, such as their having come from a troubled family and/ or having experienced neglect or abuse during their childhood.
  5. It is unfair to blame schools for excluding children in greater numbers as they have been hit by 10 years of Tory funding cuts – schools actively educate about not getting involved in knife crime, but have become less effective at dealing with ‘troubled kids’ because they now have fewer resources to help them do so.
  6. The fact that someone has previously been excluded from school may make it more likely that they are going to get a knife-crime conviction – being excluded from school puts you on the police radar and doesn’t sit well with judges and juries. It could be that there are proportionally just as many people who have not been excluded from school who commit knife crime, but they just don’t appear in the official statistics because they are less likely to get caught and convicted.
  7. Back to underlying causes, it’s possible that a ‘deeper’ reason lying behind why people who are excluded from school are also more likely to appear in the knife crime conviction figures is because they are victims of discrimination by the system – males, the poor, and African Caribbean children are more likely to appear in both the exclusion figures and the knife rime conviction figures – it could be that both are caused by a sense of injustice at being excluded in the first place.
  8. The stats available to us tell us nothing about the life-histories, or the journies people take from being excluded (or not) to knife-crime. This could be a more complex few years than we imagine, and these possibly diverse journies are simply not going to be unveiled by crude statistical analysis. The data simply isn’t there!
  9. Finally, there are number of other variables that cause knife crime to increase – the changing nature of drug-dealing (county lines), and cuts to police funding come to mind as being two of the most obvious. These would somehow need to be factored in to any ‘causal’ equation.

In conclusion it’s a well-known mantra in sociology that correlation does not mean causation, and this particular topic is a great one to use to illustrate this.

To my mind there are so many problems with maintaining the causality argument here that the only possible reason anyone would try to make it in the first place is to distract attention away from all the other social problems that correlate with the increase in knife crime – the kind of problems government policies either exacerbate or can do little to combat.

Relevance to A-level Sociology: this is a great topic that bridges education, methods and crime!

Sources not already linked above

Huffington Post – Don’t blame school exclusions for rise in knife crime

The Guardian – Knife crime and exclusions are a symptom of wider malaise.

Advertisements
Posted on Leave a comment

The limitations of School Exclusion Statistics

The Department for Education publishes an annual report on exclusions, the latest edition published in August 2018 being ‘Permanent and fixed-period exclusions in England: 2016 to 2017.

The 2018 report shows that the overall rate of permanent exclusions was 0.1 per cent of pupil enrolments in 2016/17. The number of exclusions was 7,720.

exlusion statistics.png

The report also goes into more detail, for example….

  • The vast majority of exclusions were from secondary schools >85% of exclusions.
  • The three main reasons for permanent exclusions (not counting ‘other’) were
    • Persistent disruptive behaviour
    • Physical assault against a pupil
    • Physical assault against an adult.

Certain groups of students are far more likely to be permanently excluded:

  • Free School Meals (FSM) pupils had a permanent exclusion rate four times higher than non-FSM pupils
  • FSM pupils accounted for 40.0% of all permanent exclusions
  • The permanent exclusion rate for boys was over three times higher than that for girls
  • Over half of all permanent exclusions occur in national curriculum year 9 or above. A quarter of all permanent exclusions were for pupils aged 14
  • Black Caribbean pupils had a permanent exclusion rate nearly three times higher than the school population as a whole.
  • Pupils with identified special educational needs (SEN) accounted for around half of all permanent exclusions

The ‘reasons why’ and ‘types of pupil’ data probably hold no surprises, but NB there are quite a few limitations with the above data, and so these stats should be treated with caution!

Limitations of data on permanent exclusions

Validity problems…

According to this Guardian article, the figures do not take into account ‘informal exclusions’ or ‘off-rolling’ – where schools convince parents to withdraw their children without making a formal exclusion order – technically it’s then down to the parents to enrol their child at another institution or home-educate them, but in many cases this doesn’t happen.

According to research conducted by FFT Education Datalab up to 7, 700 students go missing from the school role between year 7 and year 11 when they are  supposed to sit their GCSEs…. Equivalent to a 1.4% drop out rate across from first enrolment at secondary school to GCSEs.

Datalabs took their figures from the annual school census and the DfE’s national pupil database. The cohort’s numbers were traced from year seven, the first year of secondary school, up until taking their GCSEs in 2017.

The entire cohort enrolled in year 7 in state schools in England in 2013 was 550,000 children

However, by time of sitting GCSEs:

  • 8,700 pupils were in alternative provision or pupil referral units,
  • nearly 2,500 had moved to special schools
  • 22,000 had left the state sector (an increase from 20,000 in 2014) Of the 22,000,
    • 3,000 had moved to mainstream private schools
    • Just under 4,000 were enrolled or sat their GCSEs at a variety of other education institutions.
    • 60% of the remaining 15,000 children were likely to have moved away from England, in some case to other parts of the UK such as Wales (used emigration data by age and internal migration data to estimate that around)
    • Leaves between 6,000 to 7,700 former pupils unaccounted for, who appear not to have sat any GCSE or equivalent qualifications or been counted in school data.

Working out the percentages this means that by GCSEs, the following percentages of the original year 7 cohort had been ‘moved on’ to other schools. 

  • 6% or 32, 000 students in all, 10, 00 of which were moved to ‘state funded alternative provision, e.g. Pupil Referral Units.
  • 4%, or 22K left the mainstream state sector altogether (presumably due to exclusion or ‘coerced withdrawal’ (i.e. off rolling), of which
  • 4%, or 7, 700 cannot be found in any educational records!

This Guardian article provides a decent summary of the research.

Further limitations of data on school exclusions

  • There is very little detail on why pupils were excluded, other than the ‘main reason’ formally recorded by the head teacher in all school. There is no information at all about the specific act or the broader context. Labelling theorists might have something to say about this!
  • There is a significant time gap between recording and publication of the data. This data was published in summer 2018 and covers exclusions in the academic year 2016-2017. Given that you might be looking at this in 2019 (data is published annually) and that there is probably a ‘long history’ behind many exclusions (i.e. pupils probably get more than one second chance), this data refers to events that happened 2 or more years ago.

Relevance of this to A-level sociology

This is of obvious relevance to the education module… it might be something of a wake up call that 4% of students leave mainstream secondary education before making it to GCSEs, and than 1.4% seem to end up out of education and not sitting GCSEs!

It’s also a good example of why independent longitudinal studies provide a more valid figure of exclusions (and ‘informal’ exclusions) than the official government statistics on this.

 

I’ll be producing more posts on why students get excluded, and on what happens to them when they do and the consequences for society in coming weeks.

 

This is a topic that interests me, shame it’s not a direct part of the A level sociology education spec!