Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 20 Nov 2008

Why are we excluding so many under-fives from school? It is ridiculous. Are their carers and nursery workers no good?

Hillary's Advice

My answer is that I just don’t know. And neither does anyone else, exactly, although my hunch is that it is a mixture of really difficult cases and, in some instances, poor management.

According to official figures, as is now widely known, 4,000 children aged five and under were excluded from school for a time last year. Most were five-year-olds, but the hundreds of exclusions among the under-fours and the under-threes break down fairly evenly into those who attacked a pupil and those who attacked an adult.

All of us who are parents can probably remember being “attacked’ by an out-of-control three-year-old, and are probably wondering what on earth any school is thinking of, deeming this sort of behaviour worthy of an exclusion.

But I spend a lot of time in children’s centres and nursery classes and know that some of the behaviour that comes through their doors is more awful than most of us can imagine. These are usually children who come from highly-disrupted backgrounds, and whose parents are barely functioning themselves. The whole family needs help. But sometimes a school or nursery feels it must exclude a child on the grounds of safety. And sometimes they decide an exclusion might calm everyone down and jolt the parents into realising that their children’s behaviour is unacceptable. Sometimes, too, I am sure, it is because there has been some sort of poor management, which has allowed a problem to escalate far more than it should have done.