School Days

The Oldie - - CONTENTS - Sophia Waugh

School ex­clu­sions are be­com­ing some­thing of a po­lit­i­cal hot potato. The num­ber of ex­clu­sions is on the rise, ac­com­pa­nied by head­lines such as ‘Dozens of se­condary schools ex­clude at least 20 per cent of pupils’ and ‘School ex­clu­sions put chil­dren at risk of gang-groom­ing’.

Links be­tween school ex­clu­sions and men­tal health is­sues among the young pro­duce a lot of head-scratch­ing and hand-wring­ing. There are sug­ges­tions, too, that schools ex­clude chil­dren to ‘off-roll’ them in the GCSE year, thus ma­nip­u­lat­ing their re­sults.

On the whole, the anti-ex­clu­sion­ists are the pun­dits, the politi­cians and, some­times, the par­ents of the ex­cluded. ‘My boy has the right to his ed­u­ca­tion,’ shriek par­ents. And yes, he does have that right. And he has been given it but, in many cases, he has stamped on it, spat on it and maybe even peed on it for good mea­sure.

Last month, I wrote about the school’s new be­hav­iour pol­icy. It is much stricter than any­thing we have tried yet – and it is work­ing. Most of the dis­rup­tive five per cent are now toeing the line. The oth­ers, who can­not or will not be­have, are re­moved from our class­rooms. If their bad be­hav­iour con­tin­ues, they will re­ceive fixed-term ex­clu­sions (ie a day or two). As a re­sult of this, two things are hap­pen­ing: be­hav­iour is im­mea­sur­ably bet­ter in the class­room and around the school, and we are see­ing more ex­clu­sions than we nor­mally would this early in the school year.

Now, you mustn’t think that, be­cause I’m writ­ing from ru­ral Eng­land rather than a sprawl­ing conur­ba­tion or in­nercity slum, we have no gangs, no de­pri­va­tion and no youth­ful men­tal health prob­lems. We have all the above.

But the chil­dren we are ex­clud­ing have par­ents and car­ers, to whom the chil­dren should be go­ing on their days of ex­clu­sion. No child is ex­cluded with­out full con­tact with the par­ents. No child is read­mit­ted with­out a meet­ing be­tween child, par­ent and school. The vast ma­jor­ity of schools are not ‘off-rolling’ chil­dren for re­sults, but are ex­clud­ing them thought­fully, with a clear ex­pla­na­tion of rea­sons for the ex­clu­sion made to all par­ties.

All we want is to equip all of our stu­dents with the abil­ity to go out into the world and do well. But there you have it – all of our stu­dents. For ev­ery two who dis­rupt, there are 28 oth­ers in the class who have to put up with the child’s dis­rup­tion and the teacher’s time be­ing wasted.

I can’t check Johnny’s book or his un­der­stand­ing if I am try­ing to check Billy’s be­hav­iour. So Johnny has to sit, puz­zled and bored, or amused at the sideshow, in­stead of be­ing able to get on. Those par­ents who roar at their child miss­ing school be­cause of ex­clu­sions should per­haps con­sider those chil­dren whose ed­u­ca­tion is be­ing dis­rupted by their lit­tle dar­ling’s shenani­gans.

This year I have in­her­ited a class which, last year, was a by­word for shock­ing be­hav­iour. One boy hung back at the end of class this week and said he wanted to thank me for how I had trans­formed the lessons.

I took the credit, but I knew it is only partly to do with me. It was be­cause the be­hav­iour of the whole school has changed. And the few pupils who were at the heart of last year’s bad be­hav­iour are ei­ther be­hav­ing or have been sent to iso­la­tion. They are mostly be­hav­ing.

Chil­dren are hap­pier; staff are hap­pier… the pun­dits can go whis­tle.

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