Dozens of children excluded from Leeds schools for ‘breaching Covid rules’

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Dozens of children in Leeds were excluded from school over breaches of coronavirus rules last year, new figures reveal.

"Wilful and repeated transgression of protective measures" was the reason behind 65 exclusions from schools in the city in the 2020-21 academic year, according to data from the Department for Education.

All of the exclusions were temporary.

A total of 45 were in high schools in Leeds, while 20 pupils were excluded from primary schools for breaches.

Dozens of children were excluded from schools in Leeds over Covid breaches, figures show.Dozens of children were excluded from schools in Leeds over Covid breaches, figures show.
Dozens of children were excluded from schools in Leeds over Covid breaches, figures show.

National figures

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Across England, children were excluded 12,965 times for reasons including non-compliance with social distancing, causing distress such as by purposefully coughing near to others, or any other deliberate breach of a school's public health measures.

Schools were able to list multiple reasons for each exclusion for the first time last year.

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Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said schools worked very hard to keep pupils and staff safe during the pandemic.

She added that it was not unreasonable that young people should be expected to comply with those Covid measures.

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However, Stephen Morgan MP, Labour’s shadow schools minister, said: “The Conservatives have created deep divides in school exclusions, with the lack of clear guidance, especially during the pandemic, threatening children’s futures and failing communities.

“The Government’s own independent review highlights the need to tackle exclusions and ensure children are supported in order to improve life chances.

“No parent wants to see their child excluded from school but once again the Conservatives have treated our children and their future opportunities as an afterthought.”

Total exclusions in Leeds

In Leeds, there were a total of 4,945 exclusions (4,943 temporary and two permanent) for all reasons last year – up from 4,105 in 2019-20.

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Figures for the most recent academic year include a period in spring 2021 when Covid-19 restrictions meant that only key worker and vulnerable children were attending school in person, with others being educated remotely.

Of the 16 possible reasons for exclusion, public health was the eleventh most frequent.

The most common reasons were for persistent disruptive behaviour (43 per cent), verbal abuse or threatening behaviour towards an adult (19 per cent) and physical assault against a pupil (14 per cent).

Union reaction

The National Association of Head Teachers said schools following guidance were sometimes forced to suspend students in cases of persistent rule breaking and unsafe behaviour, with school leaders making tough decisions to keep everyone safe.

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Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the union, said exclusions are always a last resort – and have fallen to an all-time low across England – but should not mean the end of the road for pupils affected.

He added: "Unfortunately cuts to health and social care services mean that the safety net for excluded young people has too many holes in it.

"This is something that the Government should address urgently.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said that permanent exclusions were a rare but necessary way of managing behaviour – but should not mean exclusion from education.