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Exclusions leading to poor mental health for school pupils

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Could school nurses be the safety net kids need? Could school nurses be the safety net kids need?

‘Strong school nursing’ is needed to help pupils living with mental health issues, as research from the University of Exeter shows the impact exclusion can have on children’s wellbeing.

New onset mental disorders may be a consequence of exclusion from school for children and, separately, children with poor mental health may be more likely to be excluded from school, according to research by Professor Tamsin Ford.

READ MORE: Schools and health services must unite against 'false economy' in children's mental health

She warned that excluded children can develop a range of mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety as well as behavioural disturbance. The impact of excluding a child from school on their education and progress was found to often be long term. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said school nurses were ‘paramount’ to counteracting this trend.

‘School nurses are on the frontline of children’s day to day lives and can spot signs of difficulty before they spiral out of control,’ said RCN lead for children Fiona Smith. ‘Their role is also critical in training teachers to note these signs and respond to them effectively.

‘However, the number of school nurses has fallen significantly despite a rise in school pupils. It is vital the government provides the funds for strong school nursing services that can make a real difference to children across the country.’

READ MORE: Vulnerable children 'heading for explosive situation' if health visitors not funded

Of the 5,000 children interviewed in Professor Ford’s study, more than 200 had experienced at least one exclusion. She found that exclusion was more likely for boys, secondary school pupils and those living in deprived circumstances. Poor general health, learning disabilities and having parents with mental illness were also tied to likelihood of exclusion.

Consistently poor behaviour in the classroom was found to be the main reason for school exclusion, with many students facing repeated dismissal from school. Relatively few pupils are expelled from school, but Professor Ford warned that even temporary exclusions can amplify psychological distress.

She said identifying children who struggle in class could, if coupled with tailored support, prevent exclusion and improve their success at school, while exclusion might precipitate future mental disorder. These severe psychological difficulties are often persistent so could then require long-term clinical support by the NHS.

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‘For children who really struggle at school, exclusion can be a relief as it removes them from an unbearable situation with the result that on their return to school they will behave even more badly to escape again,’ said Professor Ford.

‘As such, it becomes an entirely counterproductive disciplinary tool as for these children it encourages the very behaviour that it intends to punish. By avoiding exclusion and finding other solutions to poor behaviour, schools can help children’s mental health in the future as well as their education.’

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