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You can’t permanently exclude a child because of their parents; or because they’re a PinBall Kid struggling with life.” – Tom Sherrington

The rising levels of school exclusions (including unofficial or even illegal exclusions) has attracted much media attention of late. Within these numbers there is an over-representation of young people whose academic performance might negatively affect their school’s exam results and league table standings. Support services for these students, including Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, are also suffering from decreased capacity.

Excluded students are:

  • 2x as likely to be in care
  • 3x as likely to be ‘children in need’
  • 4x as likely to have grown up in poverty
  • 7x as likely to have special educational needs and disabilities

The RSA believes that it is possible to ensure that fewer children and young people are unnecessarily excluded from mainstream schools. This requires every school to take an approach where students and their families receive social, emotional and behavioural support as well as educational instruction. We also need national and local policies to value the outcomes that these approaches achieve for all children.

In Autumn 2018 the RSA embarked on an 18-month project, supported by the Betty Messenger Charitable Foundation, investigating how children most at risk of being suspended or expelled from school – the so-called Pinball Kids – can be better supported to thrive in education.  The Pinball Kids project will partner with exemplary mainstream and alternative provision schools, forward-thinking local authorities, representatives of health and social care, and other agencies that support vulnerable children. Together, we will provide recommendations to policymakers and practitioners to ensure that all children thrive in education.

Read Matthew Taylor's article for LGC on why we should be judged on our treatment of pinball kids.

In order to achieve the greatest impact, we are looking for further partners to join the RSA and Betty Messenger Charitable Foundation in supporting this area of work. If you are interested in supporting The Pinball Kids project, please get in touch at

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