Excluded pupils in West Midlands at risk of criminal exploitation

Posted: 29th August 2023

Source: BBC News

Hundreds of vulnerable pupils known to be targets for criminal gangs are being excluded from schools in the West Midlands.

New figures compiled by the BBC’s File on 4 programme show there were about 550 exclusions of children deemed at risk of criminal exploitation in the region between 2021 and 2023.

They included permanent and temporary exclusions in 10 council areas.

The government says permanent exclusions should be a last resort.

Former Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield said the figures were deeply alarming.

“These are the children who’ve already been identified and assessed as being very, very vulnerable,” she said.

One 13-year-old boy, Will, was classed as “at-risk” by social workers in Birmingham, but was left without a school place for more than a year.

Will, who has ADHD, was targeted by a county lines gang in the city.

“They wanted me to go to a bando [a drug house] and sell for them. It’s never like near you. It’s always like Manchester, Tottenham, London, all of that. You go there for a few weeks… and you sell all types of drugs to all types of people.”

Will, not his real name, said that his life would have been in danger if he had gone to work for the gang.

“As long as you’re getting the money it’s fine. But if you lose something, you’ve got a big problem. You could have people on to you for debt or could have people wanting to kill you and all that.”

The BBC’s File on 4 programme asked 55 councils in Merseyside, London, the West Midlands and Greater Manchester how many pupils at risk of harm from criminal exploitation had been excluded or suspended.

The 37 councils that responded said there were more than 1,200 suspensions and exclusions of at-risk children between 2021 and 2023.

Social workers assess vulnerable children referred to them – if they are in danger of being manipulated and harmed by criminal gangs they are classed as at risk of criminal exploitation.

Ms Longfield said more should be done to keep vulnerable children in classrooms.

“We exclude too many children in England, and much of this comes down to the will to support children in our education,” she said.

However, some deny there is a link between exclusions and gang involvement.

Tom Bennett, the Behaviour Management Advisor to the Department for Education, told the BBC he did not “think there is any good evidence to suggest that exclusion results in a significantly increased chance of joining gangs”.

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