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Collateral Damage? The Layering of Exclusion of Disadvantaged Students in England's Secondary Schools



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McLean, Anton 


The disproportionately poorer outcomes of disadvantaged students compared to their more advantaged peers have long been of concern to those in and around the education system. Schools encounter students who bring with them their internalised socio-economic experiences which, in turn, contribute to practices of inclusion and exclusion in these spaces. The research questions in this thesis are focused on the nature and impact of exclusion from the experiences and perspectives of the senior leaders who frame exclusion in their schools and the students who experience exclusion.

This study moves forward from the dominant way that educationalists conceptualise exclusion as simply the placing of the excluded student physically away from the school either temporarily (fixed term exclusion/suspension) or permanently (expulsion). It is argued here that this is too narrow a framing of exclusion and contributes to the lack of social justice for disadvantaged students in the education system by failing to recognise the various layers of exclusion that these students encounter in the schools they attend.

Theoretically, the thesis draws upon spatial concepts to examine the layering of exclusion practices experienced by disadvantaged students in England’s secondary schools. A critical realist approach is taken to understand the experiences and perspectives offered and the findings are presented across three chapters focusing on the operationalisation of space – mainstream, inclusive exclusion, and exclusive exclusion. It is argued that exclusion can be inclusive as well as exclusive because students can be excluded within the schools they attend and not just from them. Within this framework is built in a consideration of how datafication practices and Bourdieu’s reproduction theory may be shaping these unequal outcomes.

Methodologically, semi-structured interviews were used to gain the experiences and perspectives of three senior leaders of mainstream schools based in varying areas of deprivation and the students and staff in two pupil referral units based in two of the most deprived areas in the country, one in the north and the other in the south.

The study concludes by reflecting on the five faces of oppression (Young, 1990) that the students have faced in the education system and the society it is a part of. It is argued that if we are to arrive at a more socially-just position for these students, we need to pay proper attention to their experiences and perspectives and as well as addressing socio-economic inequalities in wider society, also ensure that schools are spaces that are relevant to their goals and aspirations.





Robertson, Susan


Social Justice, Secondary School, Exclusion, Disadvantage, Free School Meals, Pupil Premium


Doctor of Education (EdD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge