The family of a murdered teenager say the system of school exclusion has to change, or more children will be lost like their son.
Tashaun Aird, 15, was killed in Hackney, east London, in May 2019 after being permanently excluded in 2017 and sent to an Alternative Provision.
A Serious Case Review said his exclusion “was a catalyst to the deterioration in his behaviour”.
Hackney Council accepted “opportunities were missed” to help Tashaun.
The 15-year-old, who wanted to be a professional musician and producer, was stabbed nine times during a planned attack and died in an alleyway. The stabbing came three months after an earlier one, which left Tashaun in hospital for weeks.
In December last year, a 16-year-old boy was found guilty of his murder and two other teenagers were convicted of manslaughter.
The Old Bailey heard the killers believed Tashaun was a member of the Red Pitch gang, but he denied he was. Police endorsed this, adding he was not a gang member or associate.
His sister Tashoya said: “He associated with friends who were from a specific area, just down the road from his own house.
“Tashaun’s not a fighter, he’s not one to carry a weapon, Tashaun’s not one to have issues with anybody.”
The family believe Tashaun’s behaviour worsened due to his exclusion.
Tashaun had been a pupil at Hackney New School but at the end of the 2017 summer term he was permanently excluded after a prank involving a teacher’s coat.
His mother Michelle Tan-Ming appealed against the decision, and months later that exclusion was quashed by an Independent Review Panel. However, the school refused to reinstate him.
The Serious Case Review, published this month, criticised this decision, saying: “It appeared that the school was determined to PEX (permanently exclude), without consideration of the wider implications to his safety, well-being or his education.”
The family say when Tashaun was moved to the Alternative Provision – called Inspire! – he began smoking cannabis and his behaviour changed.
“It wasn’t instant,” said his sister. “It was learned behaviour. If there are few rules, if you can walk out of school, you’ll do it. He became a product of his environment.”
Tashaun’s mother works in the education sector and said Inspire! did not share her ethos or educational values.
“Pupils were allowed to smoke with teachers,” she told the BBC. “They were allowed to leave the classroom unattended.
“There was nothing the children could get recognised for. It was like they were just there doing nothing.
“I felt this was no place for my son. This was the next step to prison.”
The Serious Case Review noted that Inspire! had a “chaotic environment” that made it “impossible to deliver intervention”.
In the months before his murder, Tashaun’s family were already very worried about his safety.
In January 2019 a pupil from another school walked in, armed with a screwdriver, and tried to attack a pupil.
Then in early February, Tashaun was attacked for the first time when he was stabbed as he left Hackney Youth Hub, where the school had taken boys for recreation.
Tashaun took weeks to recover in hospital and his family refused to let him return to Inspire! and he was tutored at home instead.
But he missed his friends, and on 1 May he spent some time “chilling” with a small group in local parks.
He promised his mother he’d be home by 21:00, but instead, she had a call, saying he’d been attacked at Somerford Grove.
The Serious Case Review into Tashaun’s death has made 15 recommendations for improvement, raising particular concern about Tashaun’s exclusion and how it put him at risk.
It criticised the current government guidance, saying “despite the clear imperative for safeguarding risk to be an active component of decision-making, the statutory guidance falls short in emphasising this with sufficient clarity” and said the Department for Education (DfE) should review this.
The DfE said it was currently revising this guidance and added that “no child should face the kind of violence Tashaun Aird experienced”.
His family insist Tashaun’s exclusion was the crucial issue.
“That’s the genesis,” his stepfather Kevin said. “You tell a child he’s going to amount to nothing, you keep telling him. You’re going to break him down.
“That’s what they’re telling these young men and women: ‘You’re nothing’.”
Hackney Council is still sending excluded pupils to Inspire!, which it said was under new leadership and had strengthened its safeguarding procedures.
Anne Canning, the council’s group director for Children and Education, said Tashaun’s case was “tragic and complex”.
She added: “We are sorry for the missed opportunities that could have helped make a difference at an earlier stage.
“We fully accept the findings of this review and will work with all agencies involved to implement its recommendations in full.”
Hackney New School is now run by the Community Schools Trust, which took over after poor Ofsted reports.
Despite not being at the school when Tashaun was kicked out, the new head teacher Charlotte Whelan said she wanted to work with Tashaun’s family to answer their outstanding questions surrounding his exclusion.
But for Tashaun’s family the abiding trauma continues, 19 months after he was murdered.
Tashaun’s mother Michelle said: “It just gets harder. We’re forever grieving and I think we’ll do that for the rest of our lives.”
His sister Tashoya added: “Since he’s been gone, it hasn’t been the same.
“I think Tashaun was that piece that held the family together. You know when something’s missing, and we feel it every day.”