London’s schools are about to become less safe. The city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, has decided to appoint Maureen McKenna to join its violence reduction unit (VRU), with a view to reducing crime by ‘driving down exclusions in schools’ while ‘increasing a sense of students’ belonging’.
The VRU has equally noble aims: ‘we believe violence is preventable, not inevitable’, they state. Lib Peck, its director, launched a scheme last year to reduce knife crime by preventing some of the 900 school exclusions a year across London. Glasgow, it was claimed, had seen a 48 per cent reduction in violence across the city since it also decided to reduce exclusions, to almost zero. The person behind this miracle? Maureen McKenna.
Who could argue with such success, and Khan’s eagerness to emulate it? Well, anyone who understands challenging schools, research, and the reality of exclusions. Or what actually happened in Glasgow.
Exclusions have undeniably fallen in Glasgow (and Scotland more broadly). Permanent exclusions were at an astonishing low last year (one), down from three a few years ago. And knife and youth crime undoubtedly fell sharply in the last ten years.
But anyone with a cursory understanding of causation and correlation will grasp that these two things are not the same. Especially when you consider that violence and youth crime fell in a similar way throughout Scotland, not only in Glasgow, where Maureen McKenna was its director of education in that period.
Moreover, crime fell by an even greater amount in England, despite an absence of the policies that McKenna espoused. We should probably be asking what the rest of Britain did so well, not Glasgow. Exclusions certainly fell dramatically in Glasgow, but only because exclusions have been made taboo for school leaders, who are under enormous pressure to never exclude.