Black children are treated as 'less innocent' in schools because they are seen as more adult than their white peers, a report has found. The paper from former Children's Commissioner Anne Longfield highlighted the 'adultification' of black students who are treated with less care and protection because of perceived maturity. Black children seen as older are more likely to be punished or excluded, the report claims.
Longfield's report comes after the Metropolitan Police was condemned for strip-searching 'Child Q' - a black 15-year-old girl - without an appropriate adult present on suspicion of possessing cannabis. Ms Longfield said: 'Adultification is very real and it has a huge impact on children's lives,'
'Essentially, it's young black children being viewed as older. That means that we look after them slightly less and they don't get the protections and safeguarding they should.'
The report from the Commission for Young Lives also recommended to ban exclusions at the primary school level from 2026. Ms Longfield said the report is not about ignoring behavioural problems in schools but is about bringing in 'a new era of inclusivity'. She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'This isn't trying to ignore the problems that are clearly being displayed with the child, nor is it about reducing expectations around academic achievement, but it is about taking that responsibility for all children within the classroom.
'And what we know is if we intervene early and offer that support to those children, often who will have special educational needs, they will be able to thrive in school.
'But schools really often find themselves wanting to do that, but between a rock and a hard place.They don't have often that specialist support on hand, and to some, sadly, they say exclusion is the only option for them.
'That's why we want to see a new era of inclusivity that can support those children to thrive.'
One parent who spoke to the commission, whose child later received an autism diagnosis, said her son was excluded 17 times from school at the age of five. 'The school said there was defiance and violence, but he was literally tiny,' she said.
A debate over the 'adultification' of black students has since emerged afger Child Q was strip-search without an appropriate adult present after teachers at her school in Hackney called police erroneously suspecting the girl of possessing cannabis. Child Q's family is now taking legal action against the Met after a report found that racism was a factor in the arrest.
The incident only came to public attention after a safeguarding report by Hackney Council slammed the school responsible for calling the police. The report says the kind of treatment Child Q and other black children have been subjected to is damaging to their confidence in schools and the police.
It also says that race-equality training should be a core part of teacher training while the school curriculum should be reformed to make it more inclusive.
The report notes there is a 'prominent strand of opinion' that does not accept there is any link between being excluded and becoming involved in crime, but that youth workers, parents and children had recounted how exclusion from school was a 'trigger point' where pupils became more vulnerable to criminal or sexual exploitation or involvement in county lines.
'There should never have to be a trade-off between a school achieving good scores and providing an inclusive, nurturing environment that takes responsibility for every child. But so often it seems there is,' the report says.
It adds that some schools 'don't focus on vulnerable children because they don't feel they have an obligation or responsibility to do so', 'or worse, in a minority of schools, they do not feel it is in their interests to even have vulnerable children in their school at all, and they game the system to keep them off their roll'.
It said it can 'surely be no coincidence' that the majority of exclusions take place in years 10 and 11, when pupils sit GCSE exams that will impact on the school's position in league tables.
The report also calls for 'alternative provision' to be renamed 'specialist provision' while it says that the name 'pupil referral unit' should also be scrapped.
'We do not believe primary school children should be permanently excluded at all and we would also like to see the end of the term 'pupil referral unit', which feels like a throwback to a bygone age,' the report says.
It proposes that in the 55 education 'cold spots' identified by the Levelling Up Paper, there should be a five-year pilot to create new, inclusive schools, trialling a 'cradle to career' approach.