The House of Commons’ Education Committee (2019) criticised the education system’s treatment of children with disabilities on the following terms:
“[C]hildren and parents are not ‘in the know’ and for some the law may not even appear to exist. Parents currently need a combination of special knowledge and social capital to navigate the system, and even then are left exhausted by the experience. Those without significant social or personal capital therefore face significant disadvantage. For some, Parliament might as well not have bothered to legislate.”
In this presentation, I combine legal analysis, theory, and evidence from practice to argue that the law is ill-equipped to support children at risk of permanent exclusion from school, particularly children with disabilities or other additional needs. I focus on the English experience, which is quite distinctive from that of other nations in the UK. I first outline the reality of permanent exclusion and introduce the legal framework.
I then consider the extent to which children’s rights arguments might support improvements in practice for these vulnerable children. I proceed to argue that much of the difficulty lies in our current conceptions of the nature of childhood, how we regard children compared to other ‘minority’ groups, and the implications of this for the legal regulation of their lives. I consider whether an intersectional perspective might assist here, and offer some concluding thoughts on how to bring about the necessary cultural shift and make the law work for vulnerable children at risk of exclusion from school.