Creating change for the 'pinball kids' - RSA

Creating change for the 'pinball kids'


  • Education
  • Curriculum
  • Schools

The rising number of pupils excluded from school and their dire prospects following exclusion are signs of social stress, policy failure and systemic dysfunction.

As well as joining the call for policy change, local leaders can and should take the initiative to strengthen collaboration on behalf on some of our most vulnerable children. The RSA is keen to help. 

The RSA report ‘Pinball Kids’ is an excellent, clear and authoritative piece of work. It starts with the alarming rise in pupil exclusions, the impact this has on children and wider servicers and the way exclusions particularly affect children facing other disadvantages and challenges.

As the report argues, the trend in exclusions is the result of three sets of factors:

  • wider social changes such as rising child poverty and mental illness
  • direct consequences of policies which have had predictable consequences, such as reducing school funding and introducing a more academically ‘rigorous’ curriculum and accreditation regime,
  • and unintended consequences of policies such as greater school autonomy

Reflecting the RSA’s focus on change (‘don’t just think about the change you want, think about what is actually possible given the existing situation’) we think that the third area may be the one where we are most likely to win the case for reform. 

The report contains a powerful list of policy proposals including urging the Government to invest in multi-agency teams to support preventative work by head teachers and a range of measures to incentivise and support pastoral skills among school staff.      

Although the report is exposing an urgent and worsening situation, it contains much that is hopeful, indeed inspiring.

In identifying a set of measures that schools can take individually and collectively to reduce exclusions and the impact of exclusions the report highlights impressive practice in schools including Reach Academy Feltham, Surrey Square Primary School in London, Hope School Liverpool and the Co-op Academy in Leeds.

A recurrent theme is the importance of relationships; between school staff and pupils, between schools and parents/carers and between schools and other schools and local agencies.  

Another heartening aspect of the report concerns the work done by some local authorities to address the issues of exclusion.

Concerted action in Leeds, Norwich, Lincolnshire and Newcastle appears not only to have strengthened relationships but to have delivered measurable outcomes in terms of reducing permanent exclusions. Developing a shared vision of inclusive practice and strong collaborative processes are central to these initiatives.

In Lincolnshire The Staff College, with whom the RSA has an ongoing partnership, has played a crucial role is providing professional development to staff working in children’s services and developing core principles to guide collaborative work. This speaks to the importance of investing in the ‘connecting tissue’ and good process necessary to get local institutions to overcome silos and perverse incentives, something Andrea Siodmok and I wrote about in a recent blog post.   

The RSA was able to draw on strong networks for this project, including the many educationalists among our Fellowship, the Staff College and our funders in the Betty Messenger Charitable Foundation and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

We are already exploring how we can leverage our insights, networks and tools for change to help other places commit to reversing the increase in exclusion and to enable every child to get fulfilment and value from their education. If you would like to know more then please contact the project team on  

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