I got into politics because I am passionate about social justice both for children and adult. How much someone achieves in their life should not be determined by where they grew up, the colour of their skin or how much their parents earn.
Giving every child a great start in life – a great education – is key to tackling these injustices. So, it’s an even greater injustice when a child’s education is disrupted because we aren’t prepared to give them the support they need to learn effectively.
In 2017/18, just under 8,000 children were permanently excluded from school. Around a third of these were simply for “persistent disruptive behaviour”: more than physical assault, verbal abuse, theft or drug addiction.
You would think that schools would be using exclusions as a last resort. But, instead, permanent exclusions are 50% higher than they were in 2013 – levels not seen since the end of the last Labour government.
Trends like this aren’t because children’s behaviour is worsening. They’re down to a worrying culture shift in how our schools deal with disruptive children.
This is concerning in and of itself. But it is also a problem because of who these children are.
45% of children expelled from school have special educational needs or a disability – and half of these have social, emotional or mental health difficulties.
You’re almost three times more likely to be permanently excluded if your family is Black Caribbean than if you are white. And you’re four times more likely to be permanently excluded if you receive free school lunches than if you don’t.
Any government worth its salt would look at these trends and want to address them so that schools can improve their pupils’ behaviour and keep them in a mainstream setting.
But no. Instead, the Conservative manifesto makes it clear. If children are behaving badly, they “back heads to use exclusions.” This shift in how schools deal with bad behaviour is being encouraged by Conservative Ministers.
Why have they done this? I have my hunches. Excluding pupils is easy. If a child who really struggles at school behaves badly because they don’t want to be there, it’s easiest for them not to be there.
Meanwhile, the structural and cultural failures in our schools go unaddressed year after year.
Like the perverse incentives in our testing system that encourage headteachers to quietly take students off the school roll before GCSEs begin.
Or the counsellors, teaching assistants and other support staff who have been axed from our schools because of budget cuts since 2015.
Or the inadequate investment in our children’s mental health services.
I am determined to stop the government getting away with taking the easy option.
We need to lower the stakes of testing, replacing Ofsted and league tables with measures that will support schools to succeed rather than punishing them for failure. We need to invest thousands of pounds more in support for every child with complex special educational needs. And we need to improve waiting times in our mental health services so that every child with a diagnosed condition can receive treatment on the NHS.
Exclusion should only ever be a last resort. But under the Conservatives, it’s become the easy option. Rather than addressing the causes of why children are excluded, we have a Government that is happy for schools to pass the problems on to someone else.
It’s time that we got serious about supporting our most vulnerable children. Liberal Democrats will campaign to make every school one where children come home happy, healthy and with the skills they need to succeed in life.
Layla Moran is the MP for Oxford West & Abingdon and Lib Dem education spokesperson.