An analysis of the policy drivers and legal frameworks associated with school exclusion in Northern Ireland

This paper offers analysis of the policy drivers and legal frameworks associated with school exclusion in Northern Ireland. This activity is timely given limited analysis in this area in recent decades. The research is an element of an UK-wide, multi-strand, ESRC Large Grant project, examining the Political Economies of School Exclusion and their Consequences across the UK, informally referred the Excluded Lives Project. The paper examines representation and discourse surrounding school exclusion from the perspective of three domains: government, media and civil society. Bacchi’s, ‘Whats the problem?’ (2009; 2012) approach was used to critically interrogate a range of documentation produced by the aforementioned domains and a range of key questions relating to the representation, discourse, gaps and solutions in the policies associated with school exclusion are addressed. Key findings reveal how school exclusion represented over time has changed. In the 1990s and early 2000s, exclusion was represented as an extreme measure in response to serious behavioural problems; as a school improvement measure which ensured positive learning experience of other pupils and as a measure that maintained school safety and order. Towards the present day an inclusive, rights and needs based discourse has emerged influenced by community organisations. The findings also point to an overly legalistic and procedural tone coming from government when communicating with schools. The authors argue that the current policies are dated and new and explicit policies on school exclusion should be developed. There is also an opportunity for the development of a single common scheme for all grant-aided schools which was legislated for but not commenced. Lastly, schools need more support and the development of new, evidenced based guidance and training is required to assist schools in managing exclusions and in the development of inclusive environments that reduce the likelihood of exclusions.

  • Gavin Duffy
  • Gareth Robinson
  • Michelle Templeton


Policy Futures in Education

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