Leeds schools criticised for excluding children for ‘having the wrong haircut or shoes’

One of Leeds’s most senior education chiefs has criticised some schools in the city excluding pupils for ‘minor’ offences.

Wednesday, 5th February 2020, 5:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 5th February 2020, 5:04 pm

Phil Mellen, Leeds City Council’s deputy director for learning, claims schools keeping pupils away from lessons ‘for wearing the wrong shoes or having the wrong haircut’ were causing the city’s children to ‘miss out’ on education.

Mr Mellen, a former school headteacher, added that in some cases exclusion, which can include either isolation or suspension, can have a negative effect on behaviour once pupils return to class.

The comments came during a discussion on exclusions in Leeds schools, after a report claimed the number of permanent exclusions (expulsion) has reduced at the same time that fixed term exclusions has increased.

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Leeds City Council's deputy director of learning Phil Mellen.

Mr Mellen told a meeting of the council’s children and families scrutiny board: “Some academies are very clear saying wearing the wrong shoes or having the wrong haircut leads to exclusion.

“We would view that that’s children missing out on a proper curriculum for quite minor reasons – that is something we should look at.

“There is a knock on effect on if you miss lessons and how you can contribute to future lessons. These approaches often exacerbate poor behaviour.

“A student might feel like they’re stupid, and the first thing they’re asked is a question they don’t know the answer to, because they weren’t in the last lesson – they might act out and the cycle starts all over again.”

According to a council report from March 2019, the council’s annual standards report showed a rise in the number of fixed term exclusions in secondary schools from 4,796 in 2015 to 6,601 in 2017.

But schools by law do not have to report how often they use the practice of internal exclusion, known as isolation.

Mr Mellen claimed the average times of fixed term exclusions in the city was 6.7 days, adding: “Some young pupils are being excluded for 10-15 days at a time. There are clearly some academies that are using fixed term exclusions regularly and at length.”

Another council officer added that many cases of pupils getting into trouble for uniform offences could be due to problems at home.

She said: “They may have turned up and haven’t got the right uniform or PE kit. Is something going on with this family that we don’t know about, and the school should think about offering extra help.

“It often is that the children is going into school and it does not know about all the issues that family is facing.”