According to figures released last week by the Department for Education, there were 12,965 exclusions from schools in England in the 2020–2021 academic year because of “wilful and repeated transgression of protective measures.”
Seventy-seven exclusions were permanent and 12,888 were temporary.
Mike Fairclough, a headmaster at West Rise Junior School told The Epoch times that it sounds like a lot of kids said, “No, sorry I’m not just going to wear a mask.”
He has been vocal about speaking out about the harm of lockdowns and COVID-19 measures on children.
Non-Compliance With Social Distancing
The vast majority of these (88 percent) were in secondary schools, while eight percent were in primary and three percent in special schools.
Children were excluded for reasons including non-compliance with social distancing and other deliberate breaches of schools’ public health measures, the seventh most frequent reason to be excluded.
In England, during the 2020–2021 academic year, schools were open to all pupils in the Autumn term, however during the Spring term schools were only open to key workers and vulnerable children from January for the first half term, before all pupils returned during the second half term.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said permanent exclusions “are a rare but necessary way of managing behaviour and should not mean exclusion from education.”
One reason for exclusion given was “causing distress such as by purposefully coughing near to others.”
“I do find it extraordinary. If there was a child who was being unkind to somebody else or bullying and they were coughing (even though children are at extremely low risk of serious illness from COVID), they would get told off,” said Fairclough.
“But it sounds more like kids saying ‘No, sorry I’m not just going to wear a mask,’ which they didn’t need to,” he added.
Fairclough has been one of the very few voices in education to express concern over the response to COVID-19 and its impact on children.
He said that many followed social distancing in the beginning but “it didn’t take long to realise that children were not at risk at all from COVID-19.”
“We are talking about the pandemic in the past tense but I predict the whole thing is going to kick off in that autumn term where the government will want to lock us down for some reason or another,” he added.
‘Betrayal of Children’
Molly Kingsley, the co-founder of UsforThem, a group that calls for the needs of children to be prioritised in response to pandemic decisions, told The Epoch Times by email that it was “COVID authoritarianism to trump child welfare.”
Kingsley and UsForThem co-founder Liz Cole recently wrote a book called “The Children’s Inquiry: How the state and society failed the young during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
This featured testimony from academics, politicians, scientists, educators, and parents, as well as former Children’s Commissioners, which they describe “as an unfettered account of the problems at the heart of policymaking which led to the systemic and ongoing betrayal of children.”
“Given the flexible way in which many adults, including rule makers themselves, selectively disregarded COVID rules it is astonishing that headteachers saw fit to deny so many children their right to an education,” said Kingsley.
“It’s yet another example of the tendency of COVID authoritarianism to trump child welfare, something we talk about at length in our new book, the Children’s Inquiry,” she added.
Tough Decisions to Keep Everyone Safe
The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said schools following guidance were sometimes forced to suspend students in cases of persistent rule-breaking and unsafe behaviour, with school leaders making tough decisions to keep everyone safe.
In January 2021, NAHT, along with most unions with members in the education sector, called to move all schools to home learning for most children as they believed that bringing all pupils back into classrooms at the time would expose “education sector workers to serious risk of ill-health and could fuel the pandemic.”
Generally, on the subject of school unions calling for school closures, Fairclough said that he believed that “unions have been a major problem in regards to all the measures which have been imposed on children as they have been the ones pushing for it.”
“They’ve not been wanting to protect children, they’ve been wanting to protect their members,” said Fairclough. “But, of course, their members do have a duty of care as a priority to the children in their care, so it feels like there was a bit of an inversion of values there.”
PA contributed to this report.