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Most importantly and most recently, in 2007, the Department published its “Priority Review: Exclusion of Black Pupils”, with the subtitle “Getting it. Getting it right”. That report highlighted the marginal status of race equality as a concept in the education system and the tendency to ignore racial or cultural differences. The report was quite exhaustive. I have a copy with me. Senior officials undertook visits to organisations that worked with young people who had been excluded from schools. They had face-to-face conversations with excluded
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black young people. A literature and statistical review was compiled by the schools analysis and research division. There were conversations with key opinion formers and stakeholders in the area.

There we have it. There has been more than 10 years of research on black exclusions, much of it by the Department and the rest by universally acknowledged academic experts in the field. More recently, since the 2007 exclusion of black pupils priority review, an independent report on citizenship education was produced by Sir Keith Ajegbo, who commented that the high level of black exclusions could be due to institutional racism. In 2007, the National Union of Teachers produced a charter on the issue. It argued, among other things, that teachers should have a responsibility to demonstrate cultural competency and to work with parents and carers to reduce the high number of exclusions of black Caribbean boys.

I have referred to the Department’s own research and to academic research. I have said that even when we allow for social class and special educational needs, black pupils are 2.6 times more likely to be excluded than white pupils. I say to Ministers that I believe that the official figures for exclusions understate the number of black children unofficially excluded from our schools system, and that the real figure for black children who find themselves outside the schools system may be even higher than the official figures suggest, because schools, conscious that figures are now collected, have found other ways of excluding children unofficially that they do not have to report.

I have been raising this issue with Ministers and in Parliament for almost all the time I have been a Member of Parliament, so I am sure that this Minister will understand why I am astounded at the relative inactivity of his Department over the past 10 years on this matter. After a decade of substantial research, comment and evidence of disproportionality, why do the statistics still tell us that black and ethnic minority children are far more likely to be excluded from school? I would say that, certainly in London, 80 per cent.—the majority of those excluded—are black boys.

I would point to two particular aspects of the exclusions crisis. First, we have to recognise that the disproportionate level of exclusions of black children is more than just a statistical anomaly. Children who are excluded from school tend to become excluded from society. It is not just a question of disrupting a child’s education; it can have a knock-on effect on the rest of someone’s life. Being excluded from school is a tragedy for the child, even though they may not recognise it at the time. It is certainly a tragedy for the family. I have sat with many mothers who were in tears because their son had been excluded and they did not know what to do and were not offered the right support. They believed that their child’s life was, in a sense, over. I agree with the Department’s own black exclusions priority review that, for the black community, school exclusions are as significant and poignant an issue as the stop-and-search laws.

I have spoken about the mothers I have worked with over the years who are distraught at finding themselves with a child who has been excluded and without the support, help and advice that they need, but let us be more specific. Being excluded from school automatically means disruption to education, no matter what other provisions are put in place. It has been argued, not
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unreasonably, that the disproportionately high level of black exclusions is making the achievement gap between black and other students worse. The Department’s priority review said that excluded black pupils were one third less likely to achieve the standard five A to C GCSE grades.

The exclusions crisis has an impact on unemployment. A 2004 report for the Prince’s Trust stated that half of unemployed young people said that a lack of qualifications had led to their unemployment. Leaving school without qualifications makes it much more likely that young people will move into unemployment, benefits and even crime. The Department’s priority review suggests that exclusion from school means that black pupils are 3 per cent. more likely to be unemployed and will on average suffer a reduction of £36,000 in lifetime earnings.

If the Government are not interested in anything else, they can focus on crime. In 2004, 80 per cent. of the juveniles in prison had been excluded from school. I repeat: 80 per cent. Compared with the general population, prisoners are 20 times more likely to have been excluded from school. The previous director general of Her Majesty’s Prison Service, Martin Narey, said in 2001:

Even if officials and Ministers are not concerned about the tragedy of exclusion for the family involved, and even if they cannot see that they cannot make a step change in achievement in London without doing something about exclusions, the link between exclusions and criminality—80 per cent. of juveniles in prison were excluded from school—ought to concentrate Ministers’ minds. We ought to be seeing some joined-up government from a Government who, on the one hand, talk about the problem of antisocial behaviour and fighting crime but, on the other hand, have moved too slowly on exclusions.

Secondly, there is some evidence that the disproportionate exclusion rate for black and minority ethnic pupils is tantamount to a breach of the race relations legislation. The Department’s 2005 report, “Minority Ethnic Exclusions and the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000”, said:

pupil referral units—

The report concluded that

In effect, schools and local education authorities are not fulfilling their obligations under the race relations legislation, and I believe that the Government are not doing enough to ensure that they do so. The black exclusions priority review—an excellent document, which I recommend to the Minister if he has not read it—was finished in September 2006. However, the Government did not release it then. It was released only when the review was leaked to a newspaper. It was finally released in March 2007, more than six months after it was completed. It discusses the importance of focusing on
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black school exclusions and of recognising the presence of institutionalised racism, yet after its release a spokesman for the Department was quoted as saying: “It is hard to see how using this label”—institutional racism—“would help schools and local authorities to take intelligent action to tackle the issue.”

None the less, the review recommended a specific focus on black school exclusions and said that the Department should do more. The review came out last year, so I looked at the section in the Department’s website on exclusion to find the information, help and advice on black exclusion that a teacher or parent might need, but it contained no specific information on that issue, only general information. The 2007 guidance on exclusion, which is designed for use by teachers and governors, does not include any of the issues pointed out by the priority review. It is as if the priority review did not happen for officials. The only part of the website where black school exclusions are considered is the research and statistics section, which provides a link to reports from 2003 to 2005, but there is no reference whatever on the website to the Department’s work on the black exclusions priority review.

I realise that the website is not a definitive reflection of the Department’s attitude to the subject, and that teachers who are looking for information can go elsewhere—perhaps they could find something useful on TeacherNet, for example. However, I cannot hide my disappointment when Ministers are, ostensibly, so positive. In March 2007, the Minister for Schools and Learners said that the Government wanted to ensure that they were better

In October last year, when the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families was challenged on the fact that black boys are three times more likely to be excluded, he said:

However, the message does not appear to have seeped down to officials. I could understand a softly-softly approach and a focus on research and pilot projects if the issue was new but, as I have spelled out to Ministers, the issue has been researched and set out for more than a decade.

There are success stories—we know what works—but we seem to be lacking leadership. The arguments have been made for more than a decade, and I would like local authorities and schools to set clear targets for reducing exclusions, and school exclusion data to be broken down by ethnicity and made available in the same way as other data about schools. As a parent, I believe that it is a great injustice that parents can obtain information on exam results and levels of pastoral care, but not on the level of exclusions of black boys. It is time that such information was made available.

I am aware that as a consequence of black exclusion support in 2007, the Department set up a pilot project. I shall not detain the Minister by talking about the failings of the project, as I hope to have an opportunity to meet the Secretary of State. The pilot project is a great disappointment—it does not even properly reflect the recommendations of the Department’s review. The
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Government have made progress, both on education generally and on black educational underachievement. I should like to put on record the fact that Lord Adonis is the most constructive and engaged schools Minister with whom I have dealt in the 10 years in which I have lobbied on the issue of black underachievement, and I am grateful to him for the help and support that he has given me on a range of issues. However, on the specific issue of black children and exclusion from school, it seems that the Department is still moving too slowly and that the model used in the pilot is defective in ways that I do not have the time to spell out here.

I shall end by quoting from the Government’s priority review on the exclusion of black pupils:

I have spent 20 years in Parliament arguing that no matter how difficult it is for officials or however marginal the issue seems to Ministers, black children should not matter “a little bit less” than other children. If the Government’s commitment on education means anything, it should mean a commitment to every single child, whatever their colour or religion, achieving their very best within the school system, for their own and society’s benefit. It should also mean that the Government bear down on the long-standing issue of the disproportionate level of exclusion, and that they should do so now.

1.26 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Kevin Brennan): I shall do my best in the five minutes that I have to respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). I congratulate her on securing the debate on this extremely important issue.

Because of the time constraints, I shall respond first to three specific points that she made before making more formal observations. First, I undertake to look at the fact that no specific reference is made to black exclusions in the exclusions section of the website, and to come back to her on the matter. Secondly, on targets for exclusions and breaking the data down by ethnicity, my hon. Friend was quite right about the “Getting it. Getting it right” report. There was a significant and interesting breakdown in the report, which I have read, which confirms many of the points that she made on exclusion. She spoke in particular about black boys. In some minority ethnic groups, exclusion rates are lower than the national average, but there is the particular problem that she rightly identified and on which she has campaigned for many years. Thirdly, given that she did not have time to go into detail about her specific concerns about the pilot, perhaps she will write to me so that I can look into them.

I shall try to cover as much of the issue as possible in the remaining time. I agree with my hon. Friend that nothing is more important than ensuring that every
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child succeeds. She has met our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and, as she mentioned, Lord Adonis, to discuss what more the Government can do, not only to raise the attainment of black and ethnic minority pupils, but to do something on the exclusion issue. She also mentioned the progress that has been made. In fact, black Caribbean pupils’ results at GCSE have risen by almost double the national increase in the past five years, and now more than half of them achieve five GCSEs at grades A to C, compared with only one third in 2003. Among black African pupils, there has been an increase of 15 per cent. in the past five years. There have been improvements in attainment in school, which she acknowledged. However, we acknowledge—I share much of her analysis of the problem—that we must not be colour blind, and that there is still much to address and progress to be made on exclusion.

As she pointed out, it is a complex problem, and a range of factors are likely to contribute to the solution, including raising aspirations, ensuring that young people want to come to school, promoting better community cohesion, creating strategies for dealing with the problems of conflict and friction, training and support of teachers, and recruiting more minority ethnic teachers, as she said, and getting them involved so that our schools more closely reflect the communities they serve. She will be aware that a number of programmes have been introduced, and she may wish to send me her views on achievement programmes for black pupils and black children. “Aiming High” is the first national strategy to address attainment inequality through regional and local strategies that are targeted at specific ethnic minority groups. It is not only about bringing those pupils up to the national average—we are also asking schools to identify the gifted and talented youngsters in those groups.

She referred to the 2006 report, “Getting it. Getting it right”, which identified many of the details of the problems to which she referred. Those involved in the national strategies are working closely with us to trial a set of approaches and materials to effect cultural change in the education system. Given the time constraints, I cannot say much about that today, but I hope that my hon. Friend will send me more details about that and the London challenge programme, which is a five-year partnership between Government, schools and boroughs in London to focus on raising standards in the capital’s secondary schools.

Of course, some groups need extra support, in particular, as she mentioned, black boys. To raise the attainment of black boys in London, the Government office for London is supporting voluntary and community sector organisations in developing new models of excellence in different areas. Another important aspect is supporting and recruiting teachers as positive role models. My hon. Friend has taken the initiative to achieve that aim, which the Government wholeheartedly support. I did not have much time to respond to my hon. Friend, but I shall write to her in more detail.

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1.30 pm

Mr. David Wilshire (in the Chair): Order. Before we start the next debate, there will be some musical chairs. Some furniture in the Public Gallery needs to be moved, and I do not want it to disturb hon. Members while they are speaking. I understand that the hon. Member for Lewes is happy to take interventions during his speech. The Minister, too, is happy for that to happen. However, they must be interventions not speeches.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): This is the third debate on Tibet that I have secured in my 11 years as a Member of Parliament. Today I am angrier, sadder and less hopeful than I was on the previous two occasions.

We should remember that the past 50 years has been a terrible time for Tibet. Religion has been denied the people. The basic essence of the Tibetan culture has been denied to the extent that the atheist state of China has taken it upon itself to determine the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. The country has seen appalling human rights abuses, as bad as any in the world, with torture and arbitrary arrest being commonplace.

Tibet has seen a form of apartheid similar to that of South Africa’s, the quality of life available to Tibet’s indigenous population being less than that available to Chinese migrants there. We have also seen the destruction of the Tibetan way of life and architecture. I cannot remember the exact figure but about 6,000 monasteries were destroyed in the cultural revolution. Only 13 were left standing, which gives an idea of the scale of devastation visited upon Tibet by the Chinese over the past 50 years.

For all of that time, the Dalai Lama has advocated a policy of non-violence, of engagement. He has delivered everything that western countries and the world generally have asked of him, but the Chinese have delivered nothing in response—except for more human rights abuses. The Chinese have signed many bits of paper, but they have not moved forward. Sadly, as we have seen in recent days, they have moved backwards.

When the pressure cooker finally burst after 49 years, we saw demonstrations and slogan shouting—and, yes, probably the odd rock being thrown—but the reaction of the Chinese was completely over the top and unjustifiable in the extreme. More than 100 Tibetans lay dead. As The Sunday Times said in a headline, “Tibet: schoolchildren among dead in Chinese police ‘massacre’”. Hundreds more were injured, but were too frightened of going to hospital in case they were arrested. Hundreds have been arrested, including monks; allegedly some have been flown out of Tibet to mainland China. Based on China’s past performance, Tibetans must have expected that that reaction, which shows how desperate they are but also how extraordinarily brave.

What we take for granted in our country can be criminal offences in Tibet, punishable by long prison sentences and torture. Merely to have a photograph of the Dalai Lama or to shout “Tibet is free”, can land a person in prison for 15 or 20 years. Why is the mighty Chinese state so afraid of one monk?

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): Is one of the problems the fact that, despite people recognising the severity of the situation in Tibet, maps and the media all describe Tibet as the “Tibet Autonomous Region when in reality it is Chinese occupied Tibet?

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