The City of London council’s involvement in education mirrors its neo-liberal political agenda of benefitting the few at the expense of the many. It is most interested in funding elitist private education, not limited to but most immediately visible in The City of London School For Boys & The City of London School For Girls. Where the City has involved itself in the state system it has done so in the form of academies. When academies were introduced they were criticised by MPs opposed to them as privatisation by the backdoor and for cherry-picking pupils – in short as a way of shoring up and extending elitism in education. Certainly the impression we get is that the City maintains ‘excellence’ in its academy schools by failing to provide needed support for the disadvantaged or those with special needs; which pressures parents of children who might lower their results and Ofsted ranking to move vulnerable pupils out of these schools. The focus in these schools is clearly on narrow rote learning at the expense of children’s overall welfare and development. A local press report this week about exclusions from City of London Academy Islington provides further insight into the pseudo-educational agenda of City of London backed schools.
In just the first six months of this academic year, the number of fixed-term exclusions at City of London Academy Islington (COLAI) was 584 per cent up on the whole of 2018-19.
The Prebend Street academy, which is sponsored by City of London Corporation and City University of London, issued 171 fixed-term exclusions by the end of February.
In the whole of 2018-19 it issued only 25 fixed-term suspensions, and 37 in 2017-18.
Only one pupil had been expelled as of the end of February this year – and six fixed-term exclusions preceded that student getting kicked out of the school.
Three pupils were expelled in 2018-2019 and one was permanently suspended the previous year.
An Islington National Education Union spokesperson said the fixed-term exclusion figures “ring alarm bells and warrant investigation”.
About half (85) of all fixed-term suspensions given as of February were for “threats, bullying or aggressive behaviour towards students/ staff”, while 37 pupils were temporarily suspended for “illegal/ dangerous behaviour”.
A total of 26 fixed-term suspensions were for “persistent/ multiple breaches of school behaviour policy”, while 33 were for a “single breach of school behaviour policy”.
Neither COLAI or City of London Academies Trust, of which its a member, directly responded to questions about these figures.
After an inspection in March 2019 Ofsted rated the academy as “Outstanding” – the highest grade.
Ofsted’s report noted: “Leaders set very high expectations for pupils’ behaviour. Pupils’ behaviour around the school and in lessons is excellent.”
It noted that “the school has a high number of vulnerable pupils”, adding: “Leaders avoid external exclusions as far as possible because they know their pupils may be at risk when they are not in school… The behaviour of pupils is outstanding. Behaviour around the school and in lessons is very good. A small number of Year 7 pupils arrive in school unable to understand the high expectations the school has of their behaviour. Leaders and teachers put a great deal of support in place for these pupils. They are also supported by older pupils and they learn how to manage their own behaviour. Pupils who have been excluded in the past are self-reflective and believe that the school really helps them to improve.”
Of the 171 fixed-term suspensions, 35 went to pupils in Year 7.
A 16-year-old, who asked not to be named, was suspended for four days in 2019 for going into the girls’ toilets. He said he did so because a friend texted him saying she was going to self-harm.
His mother says her son, who’s in the army cadets, has never been suspended before – and that three other people in the school have told him they’re suicidal or self-harming.
She said: “I’m very unhappy my son was excluded helping a young lady who was having issues and feeling suicidal. I think they are suspending pupils too easily and they’re making the decision without consulting the parents. It’s something they are doing very freely and quickly. My son is saying: ‘I will never get involved again’, and I’m saying: ‘What if the person goes home and hurts themselves?’”
After a bereavement a few years ago, the mother says she called for the school to offer her son pastoral care but this never materialised.
She said she is very concerned about the wellbeing of children at the school and thinks counselling services should be on offer.
COLAI says pupils have “access to pastoral care in various forms” including bereavement counselling. Ofsted noted in March last year that “all staff are exceptionally well trained and alert to the potential risks posed to their pupils”, and COLAI’s “arrangements for safeguarding are effective”.
City of London Academies Trust said it does not comment on individual cases but that this case has been considered by an independent complaints panel.
The Gazette previously reported that a mother wanted to pull her 13-year-old son with ADHD out of COLAI because he had allegedly been suspended 13 times.
National Education Union calls for investigation into 584% rise in fixed-term exclusions at City of London Academy Islington by Lucas Cumiskey, Islington Gazette, 21 April 2020: https://www.islingtongazette.co.uk/news/education/national-education-union-calls-for-investigation-into-584-rise-in-fixed-term-exclusions-at-islington-academy-1-6617019