Half of all pupils expelled from school are suffering from a recognised mental health problem, according to a study.
Those who are permanently excluded find themselves at a significant disadvantage, with only one in a hundred going on to attain five good GCSEs, which are often used as a benchmark of academic success.
The majority will end up in prison, says the study by the Institute for Public Policy Research, which estimates that of the 86,000-strong prison population, more then 54,000 were excluded at school.
The IPPR says its research lays bare the “broken system” facing excluded pupils. It flags up high levels of mental health issues among permanently excluded students – at least one in two, compared with one in 50 pupils in the wider population.
The thinktank also highlights the disadvantages such children face, as those excluded are four times more likely to grow up in poverty and twice as likely to be living in care. They are also seven times more likely to have special educational needs than those who are not excluded, the report claims.
After exclusion, the study says there is a downward spiral of underachievement, with teachers in schools catering for excluded pupils twice as likely to have no educational qualifications.
Kiran Gill, an IPPR associate fellow and founder of The Difference, which works to improve mental health provision for excluded pupils, described the system as “burningly unjust”.
She said: “Theresa May says she is committed to improving the mental health of young people. Addressing the most vulnerable children being thrown out of England’s schools is a good place to start. Because unequal treatment of mental health may be an injustice, but the discrimination of school exclusions is a crime.
“If the government is serious about real action on mental health, there needs to be dedicated funding and thought through solutions rather than sticking plasters on the symptoms of the problem.”
The IPPR research was published before the government’s latest annual figures on permanent and fixed period exclusions from schools in England in 2015-16, which is scheduled to be released on Thursday.
Responding to the report, the Department for Education said any decision to exclude should be lawful, reasonable and fair, and should only be used as a last resort in response to serious breaches of a school’s behaviour policy.
“This government is committed to working with local authorities and schools to ensure children in alternative provision receive a high quality education,” a DfE spokesperson said.
“We are strengthening the links between schools and NHS mental health staff and have announced plans for every secondary school to be offered mental health first aid training. Later this year we will publish a green paper with proposals for further improving mental health services.”
In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Hotlines in other countries can be found here