I love weekends. It means I don’t have to go anywhere, I don’t have to answer email and frankly, I can stay in my pyjamas for several days and nobody is the wiser. I may be in a minority here though, as for a lot of teachers, it’s a time to draw (or redraw) battle lines and engage in yet another Twitter war. This weekend’s has been about behaviour and exclusions.
It started easily enough:
What is the worst behaviour you’ve encountered where the student involved was not permanently excluded?
— Andrew Old (@oldandrewuk) October 14, 2017
It’s a fairly straightforward question, in many ways. It’s less so once you start to dig a little into the responses.
It’s a sad reality of the state of education in the UK that students who bring weapons to school, who assault staff and students, who physically damage schools either by trashing furniture or setting fire to things, aren’t excluded. That’s not to say that exclusion, permanent or temporary, is the answer – clearly it’s not. But if schools choose to allow those students to remain in schools where they continue to present a danger to others, then it is pretty clear that systems in that school, if not in a wider area, are broken.
This question, and the ensuing responses, triggered yet another delve into this old chestnut:
In the blue corner you’ve got people crying out that schools should not (in some cases must not) exclude students, that the kinds of behaviours coming from the responses (assaults, arson etc) are symptomatic of a larger problem and schools need to dig into these issues without sending them away.
In the red corner you’ve got some pretty hardline responses about just excluding students, and therefore solving the problem.
As the lovely Simon Smith and I have just been discussing, it’s not a binary question. Yes, there are pretty much always reasons behind behaviours such as these and schools have a duty to try to help students to deal with those issues. But there’s times when that’s appropriate, and then there’s non-negotiables. Behaviours that put the safety of students and staff at risk should not end with those students going back into lessons as if nothing had ever happened.
I’m not in favour of simply excluding students. All it really does is shift the problem elsewhere without helping to solve it. But students and staff don’t go to school to bear witness to violence, let alone fall victim to it. Every school has a behaviour policy which outlines how these types of incidents should be dealt with. Every school has ‘a line’. For most schools, it’s a clear and unmovable line which is consistently applied; for other schools that line appears, disappears and moves at will. To be fair, so does a lot of behaviour from students and how every teacher manages it, but for non-negotiables that line can’t shift or fade.
The other consideration here in excluding students or not is where they go afterwards. Most heads I know worry about this and give it considerable thought before deciding whether or not to exclude. We’ve kept students in internal exclusion for behaviours that should have ended with an external one, because the safeguarding risk to that student being on the street is higher than the risk they pose being in IE. It’s not black and white.
Unfortunately there is often little in the way of specialist support available, be it through visiting specialists or alternate provision, in order to help these students to deal with their underlying issues. I know of schools where students are kept in situ because there is no alternate provision. I know of students being put into taxis every morning and driven an hour or more across the county in order to reach that specialist provision. I know of that happening for children with special education needs as well as behavioural. It’s an appalling situation.
Behaviour is a grey area, not a binary black and white issue. Responses to behaviours are also grey, unless those behaviours pose a risk to the safety of others.
In most cases, the responses on Twitter to Andrew’s question and the replies have been black and white. Teachers need to be smarter than this; they need to not see every question being asked as an opportunity to choose their corner, but as an opportunity to discuss and debate rationally and perhaps even to try to provide suggestions for better solutions, not just acrimony amongst their peers.