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Voices of children previously excluded from school at heart of North-East conference

More than 200 delegates will listen to the voices of children and young people sharing their experiences of school exclusion and the impact it’s had on their lives.

It’s hoped that the youngsters’ views, shared through a series of powerful films and aired at the University of Sunderland conference, will offer delegates a unique perspective of exclusion from the child’s perspective.

Representatives from government, including Ofsted and the Department for Education, children’s services, charities, headteachers, teachers, parents, academic experts and educational psychologists, are among those attending.

Sarah Martin-Denham

The showing of the films, funded by the University and UKRI (UK Research and Innovation), will be followed by in-depth discussions reacting to the views of the children, aged five to 16, and what can be done to transform the current education system.

The Child and Young Person-Led Conference: Preventing School Exclusion is the result of five years of research work by University of Sunderland academic Sarah Martin-Denham, focusing on childhood adversities, SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disability) and school exclusion. Sarah has been working with over 200 children and young people from five Local Authorities in a range of educational provisions.

Sarah says: “As a result of successful funding bids I have been able to launch various projects which capture the voices of children, who have shared what matters most to them.

“The delegates will be able to watch nine films, facilitating a conversation on what we can do differently and how to make things better for these children.

“Hopefully we can help improve provision for children across, through sharing an insight into their world. They are the heart of this conference.”

She added: “We want children to be heard, it’s about listening, becoming more aware of how important their voice is and the influence their voice can have.”

One of the research projects – the largest into school exclusions in England, found that major improvements are needed in the current system and has made a series of recommendations to prevent more pupils from losing out on their education.

Commissioned by Together for Children Sunderland, which provides children’s services on behalf of Sunderland City Council, the study sought to provide clarity on the experiences of children at risk of exclusion or those permanently excluded from school and learn the factors leading to the exclusion and the impact on their lives, mental health and learning.

One of the most concerning areas of the study was finding evidence of significant numbers of children, in some secondary schools, placed in isolation booths for large parts of the school year, compounding mental and physical health needs.

Simon Marshall, Director of Education Services in Sunderland, said: “We’re pleased to have worked alongside the University on this project to better understand the experiences of young people who’ve been excluded from school.

“It was crucial for us to put young people’s voices at the forefront of this project, as it enabled us to better engage with pupils and understand the impact that school exclusions have had on their learning, their experience of school, and their mental health. By listening to them, we can understand how we can support and develop services for young people in the future.”

Delegates are encouraged to share the hashtag #pullupachair, tweet @SeeMeNorthEast and @blogsenco to promote the conference messages through their social media channels.

The conference, at the Sir Tom Cowie lecture theatre, St Peter’s Campus, has been funded by the University of Sunderland Interdisciplinary Research Network Adverse Childhood Experiences and Together for Children. For more information or to register, email lynn.carr@sunderland.ac.uk

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