An article on the Times Educational Supplement web site in June 2016 suggests that special needs pupils make up around seven out of ten of all permanent exclusions.
As a result of this finding two researchers have investigated what schools can do to reduce the impact of these exclusions.
Work by Claire Wolstenholme, a research fellow in the Centre for Education and Inclusion Research, Sheffield Institute of Education, Sheffield Hallam University and Nick Hodge, Professor of Inclusive Practice at The Autism Centre, Sheffield Hallam University, cites the 2013/14 government figures on exclusion as its starting point.
Their commentary suggests there is a natural tendency of schools to engage in such exclusions because of “competing government agendas” in this case “the mandate to include children and young people with SEND in mainstream; the ranking of schools according to pupil attainment; and the need to be seen to be strong on discipline and control.”
They also comment on stories that frequently circulated about “problem pupils” being hidden when Ofsted comes calling.
What they don’t mention, but which is clearly a major factor, is the research by Special Needs Week which can be found elsewhere on this site to the effect that the number of special needs that SENCOs are called up to deal with are rising all the time, and there are quite a number that special needs teachers feel they have neither the training nor the resources to handle.
The TES article continues, “With all the pressure of governmental scrutiny, it can feel easier to position the child and their family as the problem rather than addressing barriers to learning and wellbeing within the school itself.”
However research from the Centre of Education and Inclusion Research at Sheffield Hallam University reported in the TES suggests that “regular and positive communication with pupils and parents about how these pupils are experiencing school will help to improve understanding and make schools less likely to resort to permanent exclusion.”
This is one of those things that when spelled out is obvious: talking with pupils and parents can be a great help in resolving issues. The issue of course is one of time.
As the article concludes, “The experience of exclusion can be devastating for children and young people, and may lead to lifelong disadvantage. It also carries heavy emotional and practical costs for families of children with SEND; an additional burden on those who might already be struggling to cope. These are impacts that teachers may never become aware of once the “problem” has been removed from the school.”
The research conducted by Special Needs Week and reported on this site has revealed an alarmingly high number of children who are seen to be suffering from mental health problems.
The findings have led to much concern as to the cause of the issue. Is it that we are just recognising mental health issues for what they are, or is there a real growth in this type of special need?
Now a new study published in June 2016 has linked air pollution to increased mental illness in children, and this appears to be having an effect even at low levels of pollution.
The research published in the peer-reviewed journal BMJ Open examined the pollution exposure of more than 500,000 under-18s in Sweden and compared this with records of a very wide array of medicines prescribed for mental illnesses.
“The results can mean that a lower concentration of air pollution, first and foremost from traffic, may reduce psychiatric disorders in children and adolescents,” said Anna Oudin, at Umeå University, who led the study. “I would be worried myself if I lived in an area with high air pollution.”
Professor Frank Kelly at King’s College London added, “This builds on existing evidence that children are particularly sensitive to poor air quality probably because their lifestyles increase the dose of air pollution they are exposed too - ie they are more active - and that developing organs may be more vulnerable until they fully mature.”
What makes this particular worrying for residents of Britain is that air pollution in the UK is above legal limits in many parts of the country.
The EU and World Health Organisation limit for nitrogen dioxide is 40mg/m3, but levels can be exceeded by two or three times in some cities. The research concluded that a 10mg/m3 increase in nitrogen dioxide corresponded to a nine percent increase in mental illness in children.
What makes this even more worrying for UK residents is that Sweden has low levels of air pollution compared with the UK, but the research nevertheless found a link between pollution and mental health issues even at very low levels.
“Sweden is not a country that suffers from very bad air quality,” said Professor Kelly. “This suggests that other countries and cities have an even bigger challenge, as they will have to make significant improvements to their air quality so that it is even cleaner than Sweden’s.”
Anne Oudin added the warning that, “In all the air pollution studies I have been involved in, the effects seem to be linear,” suggesting that as pollution increases, so will mental illness in children.
“We know air pollution can get into bodies and brains and cause inflammation. Animal studies indicate that inflammation is associated with a range of psychiatric disorders. There have also been several earlier studies that found associations between air pollution and autism spectrum disorders and learning and development in children.
“This study adds to evidence that air pollution may have detrimental effects on the brains of children and adolescents.”
In May 2016, the Guardian newspaper published a previously unrevealed air pollution report that demonstrated that 433 schools in London are located in areas that exceed EU limits for nitrogen dioxide pollution and that these are overwhelmingly in the poorer parts of London.
Also in the same month a World Health Organisation report concluded that air pollution was rising at an “alarming rate” in the world’s cities.
The new Swedish research ends by saying “The severe impact of child and adolescent mental health problems on society, together with the plausible and preventable association of exposure to air pollution, deserves special attention.”