Over half of homeless men missed education due to expulsion or suspension

Report calls for better student support instead of expelling or suspending pupils

Pat Doyle, chief executive of the Peter McVerry Trust said the research will provide ‘robust evidence’  for  the future education strategies of the State. Photograph: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Pat Doyle, chief executive of the Peter McVerry Trust said the research will provide ‘robust evidence’ for the future education strategies of the State. Photograph: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

 

More than half of young men using homeless services missed out on education because they were suspended or expelled from school, new research has found.

The number affected is said to be “considerably higher” than the national average and the report has called for the practice of expulsion or suspension of students to end and be replaced with student support teams.

The research also found that more than two-thirds of the same sample group (68 per cent) had experienced traumatic childhood events.

Based on interviews with 51 homeless men aged between 18 and 38, the Educational Gaps and Future Solutions report was produced by the Educational Disadvantage Centre at Dublin City University’s Institute of Education and is published on Wednesday.

The participants were educated in Ireland and interviewed while staying in Peter McVerry Trust facilities.

Further findings included an overall “significant deterioration” in educational experience after the transition from primary to post-primary levels.

There was “inadequate emotional counselling” or supports, the study notes, and having to attend emergency homelessness services inhibited access to education, even though 79 per cent of participants were interested in further education and training.

“This report reveals a range of preventable system failures in the Irish education system that are still ongoing today,” said lead author Sarah Murphy.

“These failures increase the risk of exclusion from the system and participation in society with knock-on impacts that heighten the risks of homelessness.”

Among recommendations on how to amend the relationship between those experiencing or at risk of homelessness and education is to abolish the notion of removing them from the system in the first place.

Of those interviewed, 24.5 per cent said that they had been suspended, 12.2 per cent had experienced multiple or “rolling” suspensions, and 18.4 per cent had been expelled.

This compares to the general school population which saw 167 expulsions between 2016 and 2017, a rate of just 0.048 per cent.

The report calls for an end to suspending or expelling students and instead for multidisciplinary team supports to be provided.

“This increased funding needs to occur at primary school level, as well as post-primary, given that many students are experiencing issues at primary school and the instance of suspension and expulsion at primary school level,” it said.

“The high prevalence of suspension and expulsion from school for this vulnerable group at risk of homelessness is displacing and accentuating one problem to other levels.”

It also recommends the Department of Education provides a “distinct and dedicated funding strand for adequate emotional counselling and/or therapeutic supports in and around schools to support trauma, mental health needs of vulnerable students”.

Pat Doyle, chief executive of the Peter McVerry Trust said the research allows them “to move beyond anecdotal reports from service users about their interaction with the education system and establish a robust evidence basis for our future work and for the education strategies of the State.”

The document also argues for conflict resolution training for secondary school teachers, as well as the provision of community centres and alternative emergency accommodation that could provide quiet space more suitable for those in education.