The Criminalisation of the Black Child 

By Jamila

The big picture

It is widely understood that Black communities and Black people in the UK are overpoliced and underprotected by the criminal justice system (CJS) as we are more than ten times more likely to be stopped and searched than our white counterparts. Statistics also indicate the Black people are likely to get harsher sentences than their white counterparts, for the same crime. Unfortunately, we have seen the extension of this over policing in the education system as UK police forces deploy 683 officers in schools, with poorer areas targeted (Guardian, 2021). Whilst the police force, and some schools, argue that safer schools officers (SSO) are an important part in ensuring the safety of children, BLAM argues that SSOs pose a great risk to the safety of Black and minoritised children, who are already more likely to come into contact with CJS and Child services because of the anti-Blackness and anti-Black racism which is already inherent in both the education and criminal justice system.

Education continues to be a microcosm for wider society as it perpetuates racial discourses and racial discrimination through the policies, practices and systems which exist. The criminalisation of Black children in education is part of the wider criminalisation of Black children, and Black people, in the media and by the criminal justice system. And this criminalisation can be seen in the way in which Black children are often penalised or sanctioned by teachers much more harshly than other children. Through our work in youth advocacy, BLAM have seen children receiving the harshest punishments on a school’s behaviour policy for “kissing their teeth” or not following the uniform/language policy. These sanctions for such “behaviours” are too harsh and inherently anti-Black as they criminalise and punish culture. Education and school behaviour policies leave every opportunity for Black children to be at risk of being criminalised and sanctioned for being themselves as opposed to deterring any real “bad behaviour”. And we can see by looking at the statistics on exclusion rates in England indicate that exclusion is higher amongst Black children as a whole, in comparison to their white English counterparts. Specifically, in parts of England the exclusion rate is five times higher for Black Caribbean pupils than their white counterparts reinforcing the false narrative that Black Caribbean children are badly behaved (Guardian, 2021). 

Kieran, 38, a father, from Hackney has raised concerns about the unfair punishments his son has faced in Mossbourne School and the numerous times the school have called him in about his son’s behaviour. For example, Kieran’s son was given a detention for “fist-spudding”  his friends in the playground. Here, school policies and practices play an important role in criminalising Black children constructing the narrative of Black children as “trouble” by punishing them for the way in which they choose to greet their friends. Moreover, Danica Sharpe said her son Josiah was sent home from school for having hair that was “too short” as the school stated that hairstyles/cuts should not fall below grade 2 (ITV,com, 2019). However, as Danica explained, a grade 2 cut on a white child and a Black child may look considerably different because of hair textures, curl patterns etc. Again, this is another example of school policies which fail to take into consideration cultural and racial differences thus making it almost inevitable that Black children are punished as a part of their school experience. The case of Child Q in 2022 was a harsh reminder that Black children are not afforded the same grace, or any grace, in the way in which they are viewed by others. Far from trying to de-escalate, the Child Q case illustrated the ways in which sanctions for Black children are often escalated in an unreasonable way. The police were called, and Child Q was subsequently strip searched for “smelling like cannabis”. State sanctioned violence and sexual assault are further punishments Black children receive in a society which continues to criminalise and adultify them. 

Anti-Blackness and anti-Black racism are prevalent in British society and within its institutions. Education has, and continues, to be a microcosm for wider society through its perpetuation of racial discourse and racial discrimination. Specifically, the anti-Blackness and anti-Black racism in education has facilitated the criminalisation of the Black child and has been a long going issue for Black communities in Britain. In the youth advocacy work BLAM does, it has been clear that many Black children who have been excluded from school either have SEN or have underlying/undiagnosed SEN and are awaiting a CAMHS referral. Thus, many Black children with additional needs are being excluded from school and labelled as “bad” as opposed to a child in need of support. Statistically, Black children on Free School Meals and/or with Special Educational Needs (SEN) are more likely to be excluded from school, arguably the most severe form of punishment within education. Research conducted by 4in10: London’s Child Poverty Network and Just for Kids found that children on free school meals (FSM) and Black Caribbean children are likely to be excluded from school at a much higher rate than their peers on average across London’ (Just for Kids, 2020). This figure is heightened when SEN are factored in as ‘children on free school meals are twice as likely to have SEN and Black children face a higher chance of living in poverty’ (Just for Kids, 2020). 

Such disparities within educational have a long history More than ten years ago, the Independent wrote:

“If you are black, disabled (SEN), male and on free school meals (poor), you are 168 times more likely to be excluded than if you are white, female, have no SEN and are not on free school meals.” (The Independent, 2012)

More than ten years later, issues of race, class and (dis)ability still are major contributing factors to educational disparities in England and across the UK. 

The criminalisation of Black children, coupled with adultification and behaviour policies which problematise Black culture, results in poor educational experiences and poor attainment for some  Black children. Because such disparities and discrimination are inherent in the system and the system’s institutions, there is a greater need to tackle the issues that have plagued Black people in British education for generations. 

For parents and families in need of advocacy for a child going through a suspension or exclusion, BLAM offers a free youth advocacy service for Black children of African and Caribbean descent. You can also contact Just For Kids Law who offer legal guidance for young people in education and other areas of society – i.e. immigration. As a community we must endeavour to be vocal, to speak up and speak out for our young Black people who face immense victimisation and discrimination by the system 

Get in touch with BLAM for Youth Advocacy and support for Black children in education. Email us at


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