Children displaying sexualised behaviour need better support, not a fast track to bored and angry unemployment
Ofsted inspectors investigating an increase in exclusions from primary schools have discovered "worrying" levels of sexual behaviour among very young children.
It would be easy to tip into yet another moral panic, with the tabloid headlines writing themselves. The figures, however, show that the numbers are small, though they are on the increase.
What also causes concern is that the solutions applied in some schools expulsion and/or the immediate involvement of social services may do still more harm to both the infant victimisers and those who are the recipients of inappropriate sexual behaviour. "Sexualised behaviour" covers a wide range of invasive behaviour not all of which signals the child is her/himself being sexually abused although possibly equally as damaging, they might be witnessing adult sexual behaviour.
In the middle ages, there was no childhood; infants were deemed miniature adults and there were few sexual boundaries. Now, in some families, short of intelligence and life skills, the same attitudes apply. Yet, arguably, while some of those parents may be incapable of giving love and protection, others can and will change, given the right kind of support. If this kind of parenting support, mentoring from parents from a similar background and intensive help in schools, sounds like the nanny state, that's still infinitely preferable to children being placed in care or poor fostering arrangements that only add to the damage.
Better and more imaginative support for families; greater investment in schools with a high proportion of challenging pupils; expulsion only used in extremis (while properly protecting children on the receiving end of physical and sexual assault) and a sense of perspective is required.
According to Ofsted's chief inspector, Christine Gilbert, exclusion of children under seven is still very rare.
The latest figures for 2006-07 show there were 13,460 fixed-term exclusions (suspensions) and 260 permanent exclusions with boys 10 times more likely to be excluded. Eight of the 69 schools visited by Ofsted inspectors had suspended children for behaviour that was perceived to have an inappropriate sexual element. Most schools had instigated child protection proceedings or contacted social workers.