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Excluding children from school 'may do more harm than good'

01/09/2017 Joanna

A new study has offered evidence that excluding children from school as a disciplinary tool may do more harm than good.

Research from the University of Exeter has revealed that exclusion from school can do damage to a pupil's mental health, resulting in a negative cycle that amplifies their disruptive behaviour rather than solve it.

Examining data from 5,000 school-aged children, their parents and their teachers, it was found that children with learning difficulties and mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum conditions, are more likely to be excluded from the classroom.

Moreover, this association was shown to be bidirectional, meaning that children with psychological distress and mental health problems were more likely to be excluded in the first place, but also that exclusion was associated with increased levels of psychological distress three years later.

As such, it was suggested that children who struggle or act disruptively in class should be identified and provided with tailored support to help them improve, as this will have a much more positive long-term outcome for students and teachers alike than exclusion.

Professor Tamsin Ford, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the University of Exeter's Medical School, said: "For children who really struggle at school, exclusion can be a relief as it removes them from an unbearable situation, with the result that on their return to school they will behave even more badly to escape again.

"As such, it becomes an entirely counterproductive disciplinary tool as for these children it encourages the very behaviour that it intends to punish."

Exclusion from school is known to be more common among boys, secondary school pupils and those living in socioeconomically deprived circumstances. Consistently poor behaviour in the classroom is the main reason for school exclusion.

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