The number of children excluded from school on Teesside is among the highest rates in the country.
In the 2018/19 academic year – the latest full year of statistics available – 2,827 school children were excluded from Teesside’s state funded secondary schools for a fixed period at least once.
A further 159 pupils were permanently excluded.
Meanwhile, five children were expelled from Teesside’s state funded primary schools in 2018/19 – and a further 200 primary-aged kids were suspended at least once.
Teesside Live has reported on the issue in recent years, with councillors in Middlesbrough last year claiming “children deserve better”.
And according to Gillian Collier , a young person’s worker at With You in Redcar and Cleveland, gangs are picking up the pieces.
Below, she writes about her experiences:
“I recently worked with a teenage girl who was found at school with a solitary spliff in her pocket.
“Her school had a zero tolerance approach to drugs and excluded her instantly.
“Yet, when I spoke to her, she told me how her home life was so chaotic she would smoke a spliff on her way home to lessen her anxiety about walking back through her front door.
“I’m a young person’s worker at the charity With You in Redcar and Cleveland, working with young people affected by drugs and/or alcohol.
“The latest Government statistics show that schools in the North East unfortunately top the leaderboard for England in terms of both short term and permanent exclusions.
“Schools in our region are excluding young people at almost double the rate of schools in inner London.
“At the same time we have seen a large increase in what is known as County Lines drug dealing in the North East in the past few years.
“Often gangs groom and exploit young people to run drugs as it adds an extra layer of protection between gang members and the police.
“Initially young people think the older gang members are their friends, they are left starry eyed by a world of riches and respect they previously could have only dreamed about.
“But quickly their lives become defined by fear. I worked with one boy who was found by his teacher with a substantial bag of cocaine.
“He begged the teacher to give it back as he thought he would be killed for losing it.
“A recent report by the charity Just for Kids Law found that “children who are outside mainstream education are more vulnerable to becoming the victim of childhood and criminal exploitation.”
“My experience of working on the front-line certainly backs this up.”
Gillian said that despite the best efforts of staff who work with children outside mainstream education, young people are vulnerable to exploitation.
“When schools exclude a child, they remove their community. Exploiters try to fill this gap,” she continued.
“At the same time, on the quiet streets of lockdown, mean gangs are even keener to recruit young people.
“A kid whizzing about and making stops on a bike is a lot less conspicuous than a man in a Mercedes.
“I understand that it can be really tough for schools when a pupil’s behaviour starts impacting other students.
“But I see everyday the devastating impact of exclusions on young people’s lives. Often these are kids from difficult homes but with great potential.
“When children act up or use drugs it’s normally a symptom of something else going on in their lives.
“We very rarely hear the young people we work with say they want to be the biggest dealer in the area.
“That’s why we don’t limit ourselves to discussing their drug use or dealing. Instead we ask them about their ambitions. They almost always talk about going to college or university, or doing a course and getting a good job.
“At With You we are currently working with the police youth offending team to create a scheme which pushes young people towards support rather than the criminal justice system.
“But, it’s vital we reach these young people before they become embedded within gangs.
“My plea is that before a school looks to permanently exclude someone they make referrals to relevant support. That might be to our service, or child and adolescent mental health support.
“After she lost the structure of being in school the young girl I mentioned at the beginning stopped engaging with our service.
“I can only hope she got the support she needed elsewhere, but I hope her story is a warning as to the dangers of excluding children from what is often their only constant safe place.”
- If you live in the Redcar and Cleveland area and are concerned about your own drug or alcohol use or that of someone you know give With You in Redcar and Cleveland a call on 0300 303 3781. Alternatively you can talk anonymously to a trained advisor via its online webchat service. Just go to www.wearewithyou.org.uk .