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Statement on co-ordinated attacks on abolitionists in schools

by No More Exclusions
October 27, 2020

Yesterday saw extensive and co-ordinated bad faith attacks on No More Exclusions in an attempt to undermine their work and abolitionist arguments in education. 918 words / 4 min read

No More Exclusions is a Black-led grassroots abolitionist group, founded by educators, working to abolish school exclusions and to bring about free quality inclusive education for all. NME’s abolitionist stance on school “discipline” is about dismantling the cycles of punishment, harm and exclusion upon which the school-to-prison pipeline is founded, with a particular focus on racial justice.

This year, we have called for a moratorium on school exclusions. We also founded the Coalition of Anti-Racist Educators, a Black-led anti-racist abolitionist group working to undo racist harm in our education system. Along with the Black Educators’ Alliance, CARE are currently taking the government to court over its recent Relationships and Sex Education guidance which restricts the use of anti-capitalist and anti-racist materials in schools.

In 2016 the Women and Equalities Select Committee found that 59% of girls and young women aged 13-21 said that they had faced some form of sexual harassment at school or college in a single year. The same report states that 29% of 16-18 year old girls say they have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school. Exclusions to do with ‘sexual misconduct’ (which is not only sexual assault) accounted for 1% of the 7894 school exclusions lst year. Clearly the threat of exclusion is not working to prevent this harm.

On Monday 26th October, we were targeted by a sustained campaign of attacks on Twitter and on a right-wing education blog. As a result of this campaign, our website was shut down by a virus.

On Monday 26th October, we were targeted by a sustained campaign of attacks on Twitter and on a right-wing education blog. These attacks suggest that our ‘FAQ’ materials on exclusions support sexual violence, and that we are “willing to tolerate sexual assault”. In our FAQs, we assert that exclusion will not address the harms caused by sexual assault nor the root causes of it. The screenshots were selected to omit the following section which specifically addressed our belief that survivors should lead responses to harm. As a result of this campaign, our website was shut down by a virus - its disappearance was not orchestrated by us and we stand by everything we have published. In addition, we encountered a stream of online attacks directed at NME and our activists. The organisers urged anyone who had ever supported or endorsed us to condemn us. It represents an attempt to wilfully distort and undermine our work. We believe they are acting in bad faith and attempting to misrepresent both our abolitionist position and statistical evidence.

As we show in our FAQs, school exclusions and other forms of carceral punishment do not address the harms caused by sexual assault or work to dismantle them in the long term. This is a long-standing area of abolitionist thought and transformative justice work, which has often been led by survivors of sexual violence. We believe in survivor led solutions: which are different from exclusion, which is specifically led by schools, headteachers and governors. We believe that survivors of sexual assault should be empowered to inform and shape what justice looks like for them.

Our approach reflects much of what is detailed in the Department for Education guidance around sexual violence in schools. It is the DfE, not us, who state “a strong preventative education programme will help create an environment in which all children at the school or college are supportive and respectful of their peers when reports of sexual violence or sexual harassment are made” (p41). The DfE is clear that “schools and colleges should work with professionals as required to understand why a child may have abused a peer. It is important to remember that, as a child, any alleged perpetrator is entitled to, deserving of, and should be provided with, a high level of support to help them understand and overcome the reasons for their behaviour and help protect other children by limiting the likelihood of them abusing again” (p38). This approach is also supported by groups campaigning specifically on this issue such as End Violence Against Women.

No More Exclusions condemns, and has always condemned, sexual assault. We stand in solidarity with survivors and have never downplayed the harmful effects of sexual violence. Exclusions are an ineffective tool in dealing with all forms of violence, including sexual violence. The forceful removal of children from their education through exclusion often perpetuates the cycle of violence and cultivates potential for increased psychological and physical harm for young people. Exclusions do not stop people from causing harm, they just move the harm elsewhere. We believe that through behavioural and transformative approaches the root causes of violence and sexual violence can be recognised and treated to ensure positive outcomes for our young people and society as a whole.

The forceful removal of children from their education through exclusion often cultivates potential for increased psychological and physical harm. Exclusions do not stop people from causing harm, they just move the harm elsewhere.

We welcome the help and support of a wide range of people, including those who have experienced the system firsthand, students, teachers, politicians, and academics - of all who believe in an abolitionist future and in transformative justice - to stand in solidarity with us against these attacks and wilful distortions of our work. We will not give ground to those who seek to undermine us. We don’t think schools should be a space where sexual violence occurs, and we find it concerning that so many appear willing to accept that as an inevitability.


Author:

No More Exclusions (@NExclusions)

No More Exclusions is an abolitionist grassroots coalition movement in education focused on racial justice, abolishing exclusions and free quality intensive education for all.