The Language of School Exclusion

Lead Research Organisation: Manchester Metropolitan University
Department Name: Information, Communications & Languages


The combination of new performance measures and decreased funding have left the UK school exclusion system in a crisis, creating an urgent need for a clearer understanding of the exclusion process from all perspectives, and an opportunity for applying linguistic and arts-based methods to a serious social issue affecting young people.

Pupils are excluded from mainstream school due to persistent disruptive behaviour or in response to a serious one-off incident, with the most vulnerable children often the ones affected. Excluded children are four times more likely to be from the poorest families; eight out of ten have recognised special educational needs or disability; and one in two has a social, emotional and mental health need (IPPR 2017). Nationally, black and mixed ethnicity pupils have the highest rates of exclusions (DfE 2018). This project is a partnership with the Manchester Pupil Referral Unit (PRU). In the Manchester context there were 128 permanent exclusions in 2016/17, a year-on-year increase since 2013/14, and a rate which is twice the national average. Manchester has places for 400 full-time students in a variety of small (typically catering for up to twenty pupils) learning centres across the city.
Although the processes behind exclusion are transparent, existing research (Drummond 2018) and insights from the Senior Leadership Team at the Manchester PRU show that the circumstances behind an individual's exclusion are often perceived in crucially different ways by the various people involved. The mainstream school, the PRU, the parents, and the young person, all have a different understanding of the context and the behaviour that led to the exclusion, resulting in four different perceived 'realities' of the same situation. This creates tensions and makes it difficult to provide the young person with the targeted intervention needed to ensure individual positive outcomes.

Project Aims
The aims of the project are:
1. To develop an intellectual understanding of the perceived 'realities' of the politics of school inclusion/exclusion and how this is articulated, naturalised and propagated amongst the various parties involved.
2. To advance methodological practice through the fusion of participatory arts-based methods with critical discourse-based analysis to better understand the role of language in all aspects of the exclusion process.
3. To identify areas in need of strengthening and development in the PRU's procedures, strategies and communication practices so as to ensure more positive outcomes for the young people.


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