An Institute of Race Relations report published last week showed how school sets up poorer black boys in particular for a life of exclusion.
It warned that permanent exclusion from mainstream education is being “normalised”. And the growth of pupil referral units (PRUs) is “marketing the marginalised”.
Jessica Perera’s report focused on London. She showed how school exclusion pushes people towards a much bigger exclusion from society.
Black Caribbean boys are nearly four times more likely to be permanently excluded than other children. And nearly 90 percent of children in detention in 2017-18 had been excluded from school.
Exclusions are not inevitable, but a deliberate consequence of harmful policies. Calls for “discipline” and crackdowns on “bad behaviour” are often justified by reference to knife crime.
Figures show that black boys and men in London are over-represented as victims and offenders of serious violence. Yet Perera adds that “less than 1 percent of the total young black London population is involved”.
Attacks on education have also followed challenges to the system’s authority. A government paper published in 1984, three years after riots in a number of cities, warned of the dangers of having a “highly educated” population.
And Tony Blair’s New Labour government, elected in 1997, “expanded” many of Tory Margaret Thatcher’s ideas. Again, the government painted some ordinary people as a threat to justify attacks. Perera said “rebellions” in northern England during the summer of 2001 “were enough to prompt a significant change in education legislation”.
Racism and Nazi activity in places including Oldham and Bradford sparked the riots. But Blair used them to focus on “British values” in schools.
The 2002 Education Act led to a huge expansion of privately-run academies. Unlike state schools, these were not fined for excluding students.
“New Labour fired up the exclusion engine and firmly established it as an essential cog in the state’s neoliberal education machinery,” argues Perera.
“The academy programme and the PRU system have continued to work hand in glove, producing de facto race and class segregation between schools.”
The Tory-Lib Dem coalition also used riots to impose changes in schools.
After the 2011 riots, David Cameron said, “We need an education system which reinforces the message that if you do the wrong thing you’ll be disciplined.”
Just three months later, the Tories brought in an Education Act focusing on behaviour, discipline and exclusions. This involved bringing former soldiers in to teach children.
And it justified the Tory drive to privatise education.
The bill gave ministers powers to close PRUs deemed inadequate—and hand them over to others to run.
Gove’s 2010 White Paper in 2010 had spoken of opening up the “market to new providers”.
“Alternative Provision Free Schools in particular will be a route for new voluntary and private sector organisations to offer high-quality education,” it said. Of course, for these schools to be viable, there must be a constant stream of young people being excluded.
“The idea of private investors profiting from vulnerable young people deemed ‘disruptive’ in a competitive market was no problem for the education secretary,” says Perera.
“In the neoliberal era, ‘disruptive’ pupils turn private profits.”
Successive governments, Labour and Tory, claim their policies help vulnerable children and keep people safe. But in reality they normalise the idea that some people are doomed to fail—and it helps bosses to make money.