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.