"If you are black, disabled (SEN), male and on free school meals (poor), you are 168 times more likely to be excluded than if you are white, female, have no SEN and are not on free school meals."
The Independent, 2 August 2012
In a piece on 'equality for all in our education system' published in the Independent yesterday, coordinator for UK Disability History Month, Richard Rieser, pointed out that black, disabled (SEN) males in receipt of free schools meals were 168 times more likely to be excluded from school than white females without special educational needs (SEN) or free school meals.
So are behavioural problems as closely linked to pupils' backgrounds as this would suggest?
Mr. Rieser informed us that the figure was taken from the Office of the Children's Commissioner's School Exclusions Inquiry, published in March of this year.
The report bases its conclusions from data released by the Department for Education on the number of fixed and permanent exclusions in England in the 2009/10 school year, although as it notes itself, it also:
"used the Children's Commissioner's statutory powers to request additional analyses of the data to be carried out by DfE statisticians, and to gain access to relevant data from Ofsted, the Local Government Ombudsman, and a representative sample of 40 Local Authorities."
The report investigates the impact that various factors in a child's background have on the chances of him or her being excluded. The effect that each background trait has on the likelihood of exclusion is then compared to a White British, female school child (referred to as Jill) with no SEN and who does not receive free school meals.
This enables the Office of the Children's Commissioner to calculate the chances (relative to Jill) of a hypothetical male (Jack) - who has SEN assessed at School Action Plus, is of Black Caribbean background and receives free school meals - being permanently excluded from school before the age of 16.
The report reveals that, relative to Jill:
- A male is 2.4 times more likely to be permanently excluded from all schools;
- An individual with SEN assessed at School Action Plus is 12.5 times more likely to be permanently excluded from all schools;
- An individual with a Black Caribbean background is 2.8 times more likely to be permanently excluded from all schools;
- An individual who is eligible for free school means is twice as likely to be permanently excluded from all schools.
By multiplying these figures together, we can see where the 168 figure comes from: 2.4*12.5*2.8*2 is indeed 168. (Because the report uses a technique known as multi-variant logistic regression analysis to isolate the impact of the individual factors, this sort of calculation can give us a fair indication of their combined impact.)
However, a word of caution is necessary.
The report's figure refers specifically to children with SEN assessed at School Action Plus and children of a Black Caribbean background; not simply 'disabled (SEN)' and 'black' as the Independent claims.
It is worth noting, for example, that the report found that pupils from a Black African background were no more likely to be excluded than Jill, as the chart below shows.
Moreover, the Independent doesn't make clear that the 168 figure only applies to permanent exclusions. If we were to look at fixed term exclusions, then we would see that the inquiry concluded that Jack is only 41 times more likely than Jill to be sent home.
It would appear that the Independent's figure has been largely substantiated but there are a couple of things to bear in mind.
First, the figure of 168 refers to permanent exclusions which is not made clear by the Independent and, second, it is derived from a more specific set of characteristics than the ones pointed to.