Kyle, a year 10 student, has received a fixed period exclusion for verbal abuse and aggression towards a member of staff.

The day had started off well enough. Kyle had got up with the alarm, had a good breakfast and left his foster home with plenty of time to get to school, chatting with one of his mates on the way.

On the journey, he was wearing his favourite cap, and he was still wearing it when he walked into his first class of the day. Of course, his teacher asked him to remove the cap, which was not compliant with the school uniform. Kyle removed it, but the teacher went further, asking him to hand the cap over until the end of the day.

That’s when things started to go wrong. Kyle refused to hand over his cap to the teacher, instead stashing it in his bag. There was a very public stand off. The teacher insisted. Kyle refused, his voice rose, and he began shouting aggressively at the teacher. The teacher called for assistance. A chair was knocked over. Kyle was excluded for two days.

It’s the kind of scene that might be repeated many times each day in schools across the country. In 2018/19, there were more than 67,000 fixed period exclusions for verbal aggression or abuse towards a member of staff. Yet this could so easily have been avoided if Kyle had just handed over the cap and waited until the end of the day to pick it up. So why did things escalate so badly?

For many care-experienced children, possessions are much more than just something to wear or something to use. Successive moves through the care system can mean that even sentimental items get left behind and lost forever. A study of care leavers (1) noted how the lack of continuity in young care-experienced people’s lives was increased by the loss of mementos, photographs and sentimental objects.

In this context, where a child may have no memories of their earlier lives, nobody to share their early stories, and no treasured mementos, like their first photos or their first baby blanket or cuddly toy, even seemingly unimportant possessions can become significant. They can be vital components of a child’s identity, especially when they have little else to build their identity on. Something as simple as a cap can be a child’s constant when their homes, their caregivers and their schools are suddenly replaced.

Children who have been in care, who have been fostered or adopted, have lost so much. It is no surprise that they are reluctant to lose anything else. The assurance that they will get their possession back at the end of the day is unlikely to reassure when so many other losses have been permanent. Children can soon learn that adults are not to be trusted and the only way to safeguard what is important to them is to have absolute control over it.

For Kyle, forgetting to remove his hat as he went into his lesson was probably a genuine mistake. However, becoming aggressive and defiant when he was asked to hand it over to the teacher was probably a threat response rooted in trauma, loss and fear of losing control. If his teacher had known this, they may have handled the situation slightly differently and Kyle might have remained in school, learning with his peers.

Things to try:

  • Consider whether putting the forbidden item in a bag or locker will suffice without the need for confiscation.
  • Show an interest in the child’s possession before asking them to remove it from sight. Possessions can be an extension of a child’s identity, so showing interest in the item implies an interest in them as a person, building the relationship instead of rupturing it.
  • Where possible, carry out the conversation about the forbidden item away from the audience of classmates. For many care-experienced young people, the powerful shame of losing face can lead to unwanted and unhelpful reactions, escalating the situation.
  • Keep tone of voice and language light. Many care-experienced children have been exposed to abusive, frightening, and neglectful situations and are likely to respond with fear and anxiety to tones, language and facial expressions that others may perceive as neutral.
  • If an item absolutely must be confiscated, ensure the child knows exactly where it will be and when and how they can reclaim it. If possible, provide a written receipt or ticket as a sort of guarantee that they will not lose their possessions.


  • Ward, H. Continuities and discontinuities: Issues concerning the establishment of a persistent sense of self amongst care leavers. Children and Youth Services Review. Vol 33, Issue 12, PP 2512-2518. December 2011.

 Author: Rebecca brooks, Education Policy Advisor, Adoption UK