I’ve been reviewing the academic literature about social exclusion and youth and also considering a response to the UK Government’s new draft guidance on Drugs Education in Schools. (http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/consultations/index.cfm?action=consultationDetails&consultationId=1673&external=no&menu=1).
The gaps in the literature tell us something about our society’s priorities and values. It’s clear that most middle class people just want the socially disadvantaged/excluded to go away. They’re an irritant and an embarrassment and/or a menace. They don’t want to send their children to mix with them at school, lest they become contaminated so they spend time, money and energy making sure their children get into the ‘right’ schools. Of course this is dressed up to be respectable, as wanting the best for their own children; little notice is paid to the fact that because their children get the best, others, usually the same ones, will get the worst.
Hardly any attention has been paid by researchers and policy makers to considering the physical and mental health and well-being of socially-disadvantaged young people, for their sake. Rather, they are investigated, described and ‘served’ by virtue of their presenting a problem for ‘mainstream’ society, i.e. the middle classes.
More often than not, the priority for policy makers and the media is to minimise the disruption and financial costs which the ‘underclass’ (not my term) causes for ‘respectable’ people. There is a mainstream political consensus that, while acknowledging the social and economic disadvantages of specific communities, blames individuals (even when minors) and families within those communities for their predicament and because they don’t take advantage of the solutions which are proffered, despite the fact that the latter rarely address adequately the structural problems within poor communities.
There is also little or no consideration within the literature about poor, socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods of the predicament of young lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender young people, disabled young people or black and minority ethnic young people – they’re powerless and invisible.
I’m now thinking about how young socially disadvantaged people might develop resilience. The solutions need to be structural as well as individual. Youth poverty, their lack of access to welfare benefits, the lack of secure, affordable accommodation and stable, adequately paid, long-term employment; all of these work against them.
The new draft Government guidance on Drugs Education in Schools has a section on exclusions. It includes the following:
“All permanently excluded pupils should be offered a full-time education and Local Authorities should always ensure such provision is made available for permanently excluded pupils from day 6 of the exclusion.”
However, in practice, only around 25% of primary school age children and 15% of secondary school age children who are permanently excluded ever return to mainstream schooling. Exclusions also happen disproportionately to boys, African-Caribbean pupils (5x that of White pupils), young people with special educational needs, young people from lower socio-economic groups, young people with disturbed or disrupted family circumstances and looked-after young people. (Newburn T. et al 2005 Dealing with Disaffection: Young people, mentoring and social inclusion Cullompton: Willan Publishing, p 15-16)
And there is evidence that exclusions from school stimulate and reinforce processes of social exclusion, including homelessness, further down the line; from her research in Birmingham, Joan Smith concluded “either that school exclusion has an independent impact on becoming homeless, or that school exclusion is an outcome of extreme patterns of family disruption, violence and poverty that also lead to youth homelessness.” (From Barry M. (edited) 2005 Youth Policy and Social Inclusion Abingdon: Routledge p 174-5)