The correlation between knife crime and exclusions has attracted a good deal of comment. London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Shadow Policing Minister Louise Haigh, and other senior Labour politicians, have written to Theresa May, calling knife crime a national crisis. In their letter, Ministers explain that knife crime is at its highest level since records began. Sadiq Khan believes that excluded children are at greater risk of becoming involved in knife crime, either as victims or perpetrators.

While rejecting the simple causal link, in evidence to the parliamentary committee on education the former Chief Inspector of Schools, Michael Wilshaw, said "there should not just be a duty to report to local authorities on exclusions, but a duty to monitor on the LA itself regardless of type of school".

“Since a lot of these exclusions involve children with special educational needs and difficulties, [they] should be able to track what happens to a youngster from a poor background and special educational needs from nursery to key stage 1 to key stage 2 to key stage 3 to key stage 4, to track them and make sure they don’t fall through the net.

A report published by Ofsted in March 2019 entitled ‘Safeguarding children and young people in education from knife crime’ sets out recommendations for schools. One of the key areas is the need to share and promote good practice in relation to exclusions. The report focuses on London schools but contains useful recommendations and guidance for schools UK-wide.

The report says that all schools and academies should ensure that their Exclusion Policy reflects the Department for Education’s statutory guidance. In particular, schools should:

  • Consider all contributory factors before carrying out an exclusion (for example, consider the context in which the child lives – they may experience social exclusion due to factors such as race or socio-economic background).
  • Consider early intervention to address underlying concerns (for example, consider whether any particular groups of students are at risk and develop a bespoke set of activities aimed at these children).
  • Consider what extra support might be required to reduce the risk of exclusion.
  • Ensure good information sharing across agencies so that measures can be put in place to safeguard individual children.
  • Work with local authorities, with a clear strategy in place, to improve education and other preventative work, to reduce the need for exclusion and keep those who are excluded in education, training or employment.
  • Consider the best interests of pupils at risk of exclusion alongside the need to maintain safety in school, and the need for exclusion to be a deterrent.
  • Consider whether a managed move is really a suitable alternative to exclusion – further evidence and research is required in order prove that managed moves are being used in the best interests of children (so as to keep them and other children safe) and lead to improved outcomes for the children concerned.

The clear message is that permanent exclusion is a necessary sanction in extreme cases but schools must find a balance when taking this most serious action. Schools must consider the impact on and the risks to a student before excluding, especially when the behaviour does not present a risk to others.