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Exclusions: ‘Children have right to be heard by law’

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CHILDREN should be given the right to have their voices heard under international law when they are being threatened with exclusion from school, Jersey’s Children’s Commissioner has said.

Deborah McMillan

Last week new figures revealed that the number of exclusions in Jersey’s primary and secondary schools had doubled in the last four years.

There were 676 exclusions made from secondary schools for the 2017/18 school year, while there were 107 from the Island’s primary schools.

The figure for secondary schools has almost doubled over the past four years from 350 exclusions in 2014/2015, rising to 397 in 2015/16 and then to 527 in 2016/17.

Children’s Commissioner Deborah McMillan said she was aware of the issue and was meeting the Education Department to discuss the figures and school behaviours.

Under the the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child article 12, children have the right to express their views on matters that affect them, and the commissioner wants clarification that this is happening.

She said: ‘Teaching children their rights in school could be key to transforming behaviour.

‘I will want to see that children have a formal right to be heard in the exclusion process and that those children excluded from school can access alternative education through work set by the school.

‘Head teachers need to balance the rights of the individual child with the rights of the other children in the school when making exclusion decisions. However, the interests of the child concerned must be a primary consideration in exclusion decisions.

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‘I want clarification they are being given this right and to make sure school behaviour policy is compliant with this international law.’

The commissioner also said that she funds the Unicef Rights Respecting Schools Award, which 76% of head teachers have said has helped reduce bullying and exclusions in their schools.

The award recognises a school’s achievement in putting the UNCRC into practice within the school and into the community. To date, most schools in Jersey are now registered to take part in the award, with schools working toward their bronze, silver and gold awards.

Parents have reacted to the figures on social media, with some claiming the exclusion rate is too high and there needs to be more discipline at home.

One person said: ‘Probably because they are suspended for much smaller offences now. Gets them off the premises so the staff can wash their hands of the problem and focus on hard-working students.’

Another said: ‘The school policies should change. Instead of suspensions they should be able to put the bad behaved cleaning the school.’

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