Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The 'illegal' exclusions

I hear that Maggie Atkinson, 'Children’s Commissioner' is tut tutting about the shenanigans of headteachers.

Oh dear. She is dismayed. She has discovered that some headteachers are doing a nod and a wink to get disruptive kids out of school. Amongst her shock-horror findings are that some heads are suggesting - with 15 weeks to go and a GCSE revision schedule in place - that Jemima/Jimbo give their classmates a break and please stay out of school. It results in a sort of expulsion that isn't an expulsion. And it's illegal.

(Maggie would like you to be shocked now.)

Maggie, I think the opposite to you. I think headteachers are right to use their professional judgement, and if they have to worm their way round the law to do it, that's fine. You should change the damn law.

And you helped make it like this, so stop the hand wringing. You made it so that headteachers are now running businesses. They're working against income for next year affected by pupil grades, they're fighting competition from other schools while facing uncertain variable funding, and they're at the mercy of public image created by league tables.

Education - learning - actual child development, attention to the needs of an individual, seem to have very little to do with school management. Does anyone - beyond your naive recently qualified teacher - care much whether Tinkertop is inspired by the sound of the French language? Pfft. Tinkertop is another module indicator with a pound sign attached to her grade delivery which can be measured on the international performance scale.

But she is still Person Tinkertop, even if she is a bloody nuisance. I believe that headteachers should not only have the ability to nudge her out if she doesn't fit, they should be able to nudge her towards a wide choice of educational provision, one of which will suit her unique, smash-the-furniture-up style.

I'm not pontificating entirely from the (broken) armchair, of course I'm not! I recognise the people who are being excluded 'informally'. People who aren't suited to school as it's presently run. They could be suited to apprenticeships, active in-your-community placements, or are better working alongside adults 'in-the-real-world'.

One young man I recall was open about his intention to get out of the classroom. He'd studied the route and planned his course. Create mayhem; be 'excluded'; be placed on a scheme where you were given part-time small-class tuition in English and Maths; be let free to pursue the thing you really wanted to do. In his case, become a garage mechanic. His words to me were, 'I don't fit' and his hand swept round the classroom.

So when I heard Maggie huff and puff, I thought about Neil. I thought how at age fifteen he knew himself and his goals, and he took appropriate action to achieve them. He was straightforwardly able to face being labelled 'a bad boy'; he recognised the institution needed to position him like that as a 'deterrent' and he accepted it was part of the game to achieve what he ultimately wanted.

But he couldn't have achieved his goal unless he had the following in place:

1. Educational option, including alternative provision. Neil needed a choice of routes which, if they can exist today, recognise that one school type doesn't fit every child.

2. The understanding of staff working in school. In my experience, most teachers are not mindless automatons 'delivering' a curriculum, bowing mindlessly to statutory requirements; they are thinking professionals engaged in child development, learning strategies, educational policy, society, people. I believe many of them go in with optimistic and probably idealistic outlooks. I might not agree with them, but I respect them for it.

3. The connivance of the senior management team, the pastoral team, the head, the governing body. Yes, sure, any system that is not observable or accountable can be abused. But people in a system should also be trusted to use their judgment wisely; they should be trusted to know when a kid doesn't fit and when a square peg and a round hole is an apt metaphor.

4. A welcoming and understanding local community. Neil went to work in a garage where he was immediately accepted by colleagues who knew where he'd come from, and it didn't matter to them that he'd given the local school a headache from beginning to end. He'd been lucky enough to access part-time provision. The last time I spoke to him about his job, he said, 'I love it'.

I don't know what Maggie's up to. Maybe to put the frighteners on governors, head teachers, staff; to deflect the focus away from the lack of alternative provision; the lack of apprenticeship; the lack of jobs for young people. But you should attend to those, Maggie, and not beat headteachers with exercising what judgement they can under a crap system that you helped put in place.

Phew! Got that off my chest! Still, saves standing in the Post Office queue and having a shout there. Now have this school report.

1 comment:

sharon said...

Check out Vocational Education and Training in Australian schools. It was developed in response to the need to keep students in school for years 11 and 12 who were not suited to our equivalent of A levels and traditional Uni paths. Seems to work quite well.