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Down but not out: Voices of young people excluded from school

Often marginalised, rarely listened to or understood, the Cable has been working with young people who have left mainstream education to give them a voice.

Edition 22

Last year, I did an investigation into how isolation was being used in Bristol’s secondary schools. For some, prolonged periods in the isolation room is just one stage on the route to being excluded altogether. I spoke to parents about their children’s experiences, and to school staff, but when Creative Youth Network contacted me about a chance to work with young people who have experienced this first-hand, it felt essential to give them a voice. Often marginalised, rarely listened to or understood, these young people need more of a platform.

Creative Youth Network (CYN) has been working with young people in secondary schools throughout Bristol, including Bristol Futures Academy; an alternative education provider working with young people excluded from mainstream education. CYN have been supporting these young people to re-engage in their learning by building their confidence through creativity and supporting a positive new relationship between them and their learning provider. One of the projects was to write something for the Cable. Here is a selection of their work:

With thanks to Roisin Crowley Linton, Willow Vidal-Hall, Ngaio Anyia and Martha Baker for their work on the project

‘Dancing helped me with anxiety and abandonment’

By Sophie

Sophie is 15 and was born in Bristol. She’s currently doing her GCSE’s in Art, Maths and English along with her hobbies in dance, hair and beauty, music, and singing. When Sophie finishes school she would like to go to college to do an apprenticeship in adult social care, as she wants to work in a care home when she’s older.

I started dancing when I was five, but the first time it hit me that this made a difference was when I lost my brother. I was having a hard time, and dance helped me to feel better. He hasn’t died, he just doesn’t live with me anymore.

I want to talk about the connection between dance and people who find themselves homeless, and the positivity that can come through dance. Dance can often help people who have been abandoned, with the anxiety and emotional trauma that comes from this.

I have been through this myself and I feel like you can put your feelings and emotions into your dance moves to make yourself feel more confident and better about yourself. It’s a physical way of giving yourself therapy.

I believe that even if people put you down and say bad things about you, you can express that through dance. It’s the best way for me to get the bad things out of my head.

I have experience feeling abandoned in my life. I feel like people push me away even if I haven’t done anything wrong. They say I’ve done bad things even if I haven’t. It just feels like people have always pushed me away. It’s then that I just go into a room on my own to dance all the bad words away.

When I am dancing, I feel like myself; more confident and better in myself. I feel like I can talk to my emotions when I’m dancing rather than talking to someone else who might not understand what I’m feeling.

I want other people to know how good dance can be for your mental health because I feel like if you have anxiety or depression and feel abandoned, you might feel like no one likes you or feel suicidal. You should talk to someone about it, but whether you are a dancer or you have never danced before, just dance! Dance can understand you and feel you more because it’s telling you to push yourself.

My experiences of exclusion

By Kian

Kian is 15 and grew up in Hartcliffe. He lives at home with his mum, step dad, 1 sister and 2 brothers. He is currently in year 11 and is hoping to do an apprenticeship next year in plastering at City of Bristol College.

I found being in mainstream education difficult. The classes were so much bigger than I could manage, so I got sent home all the time for ‘bad behaviour’. I found it really hard to concentrate in big classes. When I went up to secondary school, they knew I struggled with large groups so they said I could have a dedicated teacher to help with all this but it never happened. I need more help with learning because I have been diagnosed with ADHD. If I had been offered more support I would have been able to concentrate more. When I asked where the help with they didn’t say anything. I wanted the extra support so it could keep me on track. I always wanted to do well in school but I didn’t get the help.

I didn’t have a good relationship with any teacher. I didn’t listen to them and they didn’t listen to me. I was always in isolation but I hated it there so I’d throw chairs around which would get me sent home. I didn’t ever want to hurt anyone but I felt so claustrophobic in isolation I had to find a way out. It was a small room and it feels like you’re trapped when you’re in there. I don’t like being in small spaces and feeling trapped – I wanted more freedom.

I found the work in the lessons so hard because I was so behind. Smaller classes would have helped because I have always struggled with large groups of people. I need my own space and the classes were too busy!

There needs to be more engaging lessons, where we get to go out into the real world and be taught in more creative ways. Staying indoors all day was hard.

I want to get my GCSEs and get a job – any job and do well. I want to work hard for my future. It was unfair to be excluded but I know where they were coming from because I was badly behaved but after a year of not getting the help I needed, I thought ‘the help isn’t coming’ so I may as well mess around, so I did. I know what I did was wrong but I didn’t have the support in the room!

I’m glad I am out of mainstream because it didn’t suit me. I don’t think there was enough support for young people in school. They need to support young people to stop them from getting into trouble. Support around behaviour, building friendships and to them on track.

Reaction by Kian

When people say stuff about me behind my back,
when I can't hear them,
that winds me up
They say loads of stuff behind my back
I hears my name in their conversation
Everyone gets involved,
People picking on other people, people picking on us all.
It hits my head, adrenaline goes through my head, starts
pumping through my body.
I've got to walk out or I end up throwing something
If I react, I'll get in more trouble, that why I walks out,
to stop myself from doing anything.
Getting in trouble means a phone call home.
To my mum, and step dad.
I don't know how they feel, they'd be unhappy, upset.
Mum is angry, she comes to pick me up
"get in the car now" she says,
We sit in silence.
Sometimes it's nice to have silence in your life.

Why I wrote the poem

I wrote this when I was fourteen because it was about how I felt. Now I am sixteen, I have learnt you just need to walk away. That’s the only way to deal with things. I used to not do that but now I do.

There’s no point getting angry if people talk about you, because they will just carry on. If you ignore them they stop.

I know now that when I get angry I just need to leave a situation. Some people might think it is soft walking away from situations, but I don’t think it is. I’ve grown up a lot more from what I used to be. I would say to younger people just to walk away.

Writing poetry gets it out there – gets your emotions out! I haven’t had many opportunities to do poetry and creative stuff. I would like more.

I wrote the poem for myself but also for people to hear it.

Poem (unnamed)

By Katy

Once was a girl called Gemima,
who was very petite and had long brown hair.
When she walked in the room,
everyone stared and glared at her awful ragged clothes.

She prioritizes her sister,
paralysed by fear of judgement,
the fear of her sister being taken away
the disappointment in herself,
her loneliness.
She wanted an education,
to help her Mums probation
but she couldn’t give an explanation
about how she’d reached this destination.

A girl, elegant and prestige,
who pronounced all of her T’s approached.
Pulled out a pouch, rolled up a fag to relieve her stress.
But she’s depressed too.
The stranger confessed.

Jemima felt safe and was able to relate.


by Lamoiyah, 15

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