Black children viewed as 'less innocent' in schools due to 'adultification', report warns

  • Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield explains what 'adultification' means and how it impacts black children in the classroom

Black children are disadvantaged in schools because they are viewed as "less innocent" and can be left feeling over-policed because of the process of "adultification", a report warns.

The report, from former children’s commissioner for England Anne Longfield, says black children can be subject to adultification bias – where they are are perceived as older than their years and less likely to be vulnerable by teachers.

Children who are perceived as more adult-like are more likely to be punished or excluded, says the report, which has called for the banning of all primary school exclusions by 2026.

“The recent abhorrent treatment of Child Q, a teenage girl who was left traumatised after being strip-searched at school by Met police officers while on her period, is a recent shocking example of how adultification can happen in educational settings,” the report says.

It adds that this process “can manifest itself by black students being disproportionately targeted by “draconian” zero-tolerance behaviour and uniform policies in schools”.

The report says that race-equality training should be a core part of teacher training, while the school curriculum should be reformed to make it more inclusive.

Ms Longfield said that more senior black teachers in schools and on boards would help to address some of the systemic problems.

She said that black children are subject to harsher punishments than some of their peers, which can lead to lower attainment and can put them at risk of criminal grooming outside of the classroom.

"It is something that is a risk for all vulnerable children, but we are seeing disproportionate numbers of black boys in this situation," she told ITV News.

The Commission on Young Lives, headed by Ms Longfield, also argues that exclusions can put young people at risk of serious violence and criminal activity.

The report calls for greater efforts by secondary schools to reduce exclusions. Credit: PA

The report highlights the case of a boy, who later received an autism diagnosis, who was suspended 17 times at the age of five.

“The school said there was defiance and violence, but he was literally tiny,” the mother told the commission during the study.

“A system that has no real accountability for a five-year-old boy being excluded 17 times in a year, or where a vulnerable teenager is out of school for months or even years, is not a system that is working for every child,” the former children's commissioner noted in the findings.

The year-long independent study calls for exclusions from school of primary school age children to be ended within the next four years, with schools “supported with the necessary resources to achieve this”.

It adds that all schools should report how many pupils have been excluded or moved from their rolls every year.

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A minority of schools do not feel it is in their interests to even have vulnerable children in their school at all, and they game the system to keep them off their roll”, the report says.

It argues that it can “surely be no coincidence” that the majority of exclusions take place in years 10 and 11, when pupils sit GCSE exams that will impact on the school’s position in league tables.

The government said it had strengthened safeguarding guidance for schools, with regular training for staff, and is aiming support at young people vulnerable to exploitation.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “While permanent exclusion for young children is rare, suspension and exclusion are necessary and essential behaviour management tools.

“We are working to understand and tackle avoidable absence through the attendance alliance, and the Alternative Provision and SAFE taskforces are providing direct, targeted support to vulnerable pupils at risk of crime or exploitation, to keep them engaged in education.

“Longer term, our recently published SEND and Alternative Provision Green Paper set out our plans to reform alternative provision, changing the culture and practice of how settings run and best-support their pupils.”