Exclusion must be an option

Exclusion must be an option

Once again, the progressives in our education system are determined to put untested theory above years of experience – and prevent schools from excluding any pupils.

The initiative comes from the London borough of Southwark and is in response to its previously having a high exclusion rate.

It seems that rather than try to reduce the number of those excluded through interventions, it wants to ultimately ban the practice entirely in its secondary schools.

Children will only be removed if they put other children’s safety at risk.

The usual Edward Lear-style nonsense wording has been issued to accompany the policy; teachers will be encouraged to understand the reasons behind the bad behaviour by using a ‘trauma-informed response’ and to not take it at ‘face value.’

Let me be clear – no exclusion is just as extreme as continually resorting to exclusion.

It is true that the issues many children face are complex, and schools should be compassionate, but it is not fair to force 29 other children’s education in a class to be sacrificed for the one child who has serious problems.

My experience of teaching for over 30 years clearly showed me that sometimes I had no choice but to have a child removed from the class in order to ensure the rest were fairly treated.

This ‘no exclusion’ policy sounds very impressive, but it is founded on idealism and the belief that all problems children present with are ultimately solvable with kindness and understanding.

My experience tells me it is not as simple as that.

I remember two children who were very disruptive in school, took up hundreds of hours of caring teachers’ time, and went on to commit a serious rape and are now serving prison time.

The reality is that schools cannot solve all the problems children have, and sometimes exclusion and teaching them in a specialised unit is the only option.

Excluding the two potential young rapists rather than keeping them in mainstream education when they were so badly behaved might have led to better outcomes for all.

It is also important to remember that our prisons are full of people who went to school, and we can’t say that the education system (no matter how broken) didn’t try to help those individuals.

They did; I did, but sometimes it still doesn’t work.

Some children’s problems are very difficult to solve, and they cannot be sorted out in a school setting.

It is necessary to have ‘Pupil Referral Units’ where children can be taught in smaller and more specialised environments and where they cannot disrupt the education of others.

It is important to recognise the rights of the majority and not just those of the minority.

There is a tendency among some more progressive educationalists to view schools as a place of social education where teachers take on the role of parents and are expected to sort out the problems of very difficult children.

To me, this should be left to experts – psychologists and psychiatrists – and not teachers.

I always believed I was there to teach my subject and by doing that well, children would benefit from an excellent education in that subject.

It was not about trying to sort out all their social issues caused by bad parenting.

I also found there was a very small number of children who were incredibly disruptive and no matter how supportive the school was the problem could not be solved.

A policy of ‘no exclusion’ gives the school no way out of a situation when it is being overwhelmed.

If we think about teaching (30 children and one teacher) we can see that one difficult child can ruin a lesson for all the others.

I can definitely say that when faced with an incredibly disruptive child a teacher is really powerless to do anything about it if they cannot have the child excluded from lessons.

Discussion, counselling, sanctions, and other techniques often do not work, and the teacher can spend hours and hours outside the classroom trying to deal with the problems caused by just one individual.

I can remember a Head of Year in one school where I worked spending endless amounts of time on a daily basis with a very small coterie of children who were continually disrupting lessons.

He did virtually nothing else with his time and it was highly stressful.

The influence of our society on children is not particularly helpful either.

It often encourages disrespect, rule-breaking and anarchic behaviour.

How can we expect schools to instil good morals and behaviour in children when the society around them does not. I think this idealistic policy is on a hiding to nothing. And ultimately, parents need to take responsibility for their children and instil good manners and respect for authority.

Note how some of our country’s influential individuals – ‘influencers’ to use the current phrase – have been egging on the rule-breaking of eco and other protestors.

Children see this and think they too can do as they please.

We need to be thinking far more broadly about the values our society espouses and I am afraid schools can only play some part in assisting with this.

It seems to me such ill-thought idealism about exclusion is ignoring the ‘elephant in the room’ – namely the values of our society – behaviour in schools is an expression of this.