Black girls in England ‘twice as likely to be excluded from schools as white girls'

Photograph: Peter Lopeman/Alamy

Black and minority ethnic girls in England are more than twice as likely to be excluded from school as their white counterparts, according to a report.

Equality campaigners have raised the alarm at the findings, which show that the number of girls excluded from education is growing at a significantly higher rate than boys.

Data uncovered by Agenda, an alliance of more than 50 charities campaigning for the most excluded women and girls, through a freedom of information request to the Department for Education, shows that black Caribbean girls were permanently excluded from school at a rate double that of white British girls during the autumn term in both 2018-19 and 2019-20, with this tripling for mixed white and Caribbean girls.

During the same time period, girls from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities faced rates of permanent exclusion that were four times higher than those of white British girls.

While boys continue to face higher rates of exclusion overall, the report notes that the number of girls excluded is increasing, with permanent exclusions of girls rising by 66% over the last five years, compared with a 32% increase among boys during the same time period.

The figures have led to calls for the Department for Education to routinely publish data relating to school exclusions broken down by sex and ethnicity, and take action on the racial disparities found.

The report also includes first-hand accounts of how girls and young women are often excluded from education after having experienced unaddressed sexual harassment and abuse, poor mental health, and racism. The report suggests negative stereotypes attached to black girls and young women, and those from minority ethnic backgrounds, play a critical role in their exclusion.

Marie, 23, told Agenda that a sexual image was shared without her consent when she was at school. She said: “That was just like the start of the hell … From there, I got excluded a few times, just for little things, like setting off the alarm and bunking and stuff like that. I just felt like I gained a stereotype. Like ‘loud, black girl’, and that really is not tolerated.

“Instead of being asked, ‘What’s going on … Are you OK?’ They asked me about school counselling once … It was a while after … I didn’t engage with it.”

Jemima Olchawski, the CEO of Agenda, said: “Black and minoritised girls and young women tell us that they aren’t being listened to and that racist stereotypes mean their needs are being ignored. With the long-term harms associated with exclusion well established, this isn’t a trend we can allow to continue.

“We’ve seen a once-in-a-generation crisis and the government’s recovery plan needs to reflect the scale of the challenge. It must address the ways racial inequalities contribute to school exclusions for Black and minoritised girls and invest in specialist services that are able to address the impact of the trauma and disadvantage they’ve experienced.”

A staff member at an alternative provision school said: “I think that many girls are struggling in silence and can often slip through the net more than boys. In my experience, sometimes boys are more likely to say they’re being caught up in something or that they’re doing something that they shouldn’t be, but this doesn’t happen so much with girls. They need that support network in place from the outset and often that’s not there which can make them more vulnerable to being at risk of exclusion.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We back headteachers to suspend or permanently exclude pupils where this helps maintain calm classrooms that bring out the best in every child, but this should only be used as a last resort. We expect staff to consider any underlying causes of poor behaviour before making this decision.

“We know children and young people from some backgrounds are more likely to be excluded – that’s why we are working to deliver significantly improved outcomes for children and young people in alternative provision, who are most at risk of permanent exclusion.”

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