“But They Have To Go Somewhere”

September 8, 2007

As somebody who advocates an increase in permanent exclusions to the level where it might actually do some good, I often here the classic counter-argument: “But they have to go somewhere”.

Often it’s difficult to avoid answering with flippant suggestions as to where excluded children should go, for instance into a big hole in the ground, preferably with their parents (who are usually ninety-nine percent of the problem) thrown in on top.

But a more considered response would be to say that in the first instance they should simply move schools, and if they keep getting excluded then special establishments will need to be set up which are able to deal with them without sacrificing the education of the innocent. Although this would cost money, it can’t even come close to the expense involved in dealing with them in mainstream schools. Staff spend the vast majority of their time dealing with the worst offenders, if we could get them out we might actually be free to concentrate on our job: educating those who can be educated.

What irritates me about this is the fact that people see fit to ask teachers to come up with an explanation of what they want done with the unteachable students in the first place. Are people in other jobs asked similar questions? Do people ask doctors and nurses what provision should be made for patients who are too violent or awkward to be treated? Do people ask bus drivers what should be done about people who strongly object to travelling by bus? When violent or inebriated drinkers are asked to leave a pub or club does a do-gooder come up to the bouncers or bar staff and ask them about alternative drinking provision for piss-heads, sorry, drinkers with emotional and behavioural difficulties?

The fact that teachers are asked about provision for students who aren’t learning and are preventing others from learning is revealing in itself. If schools were seen as being for the purpose of learning then it would be ridiculous to have somebody who wasn’t learning attending school. Nobody would need to ask about the alternatives to having such a child in school because, as their presence is obviously pointless, all the alternatives would be no worse.

But clearly learning isn’t the purpose of sending kids to school. The powers that be, and I fear the public too, would prefer to see a child at school learning nothing than at home, or in the streets, learning nothing. Somewhere along the line schools ceased to be where children should be in order to learn and became where children should just be. Somewhere along the line teachers ceased to be people who taught and started to be people who supervise hordes of youth for no particular purpose other than to keep them off the streets and out from under their parents’ feet.

We need to rededicate our schools to learning. We should be permanently excluding more students, not just for violenct or abusive behaviour, but for being non-learners. If that does create too many problems in creating new provision, then can I be the first to start digging that big hole I mentioned earlier?


  1. While broadly agreeing with the main points of your argument (I am a teacher in the state sector and have been for 27 yrs) I suppose the answer to your main point would be that there isn’t a legal compulsion to seek medical treatment or get onto a bus whereas of course there is to go to school.

  2. I can’t see what difference the compulsory nature of education makes. It doesn’t require students to be educated in one particular school, or even in any school at all if the parents are willing to homeschool.

    I might add that I’m sure some Local Authorities don’t prosecute and therefore it isn’t always compulsory in practice.

  3. They USED to go to establishments set up exclusively to deal with kids incapable of meeting the basic behavioural and academic requirements of mainstream. Those whose behaviour was out of control or with extreme emotional states went to EBD Special Schools. Those whose IQ was not high enough to access mainstream teaching went to LD Special Schools. Those who committed arson, vandalism, theft or violent assault went to Approved School.

    Someone in the 50/60s looked at the outcomes for pupils in these establishments and saw that they weren’t quite as shiny as those in mainstream. In a serious case of putting the cart before the horse, some bleeding heart decided that if they were all in mainstream they’d do as well as mainstream kids. And of course, there’d be a huge saving in closing the Special Schools.

    I reckon the outcome for kids who are serially excluded or spend most of their days outside the classroom door, in the sin-bin or roaming the streets is probably not much improved. And they have seriously damaged the learning of the other poor sods who just have to sit there whilst their teachers try and work around them.

  4. If you taught in a third-world country where they don’t attempt to educate everyone (like I do) you would find that those people can be asked to leave school, and it’s up to their parents to decide what to do about it.


    Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas

  5. I agree with you absolutely, thoroughly, and completely. Thanks for sharing this.

  6. At our school the principal wanted to keep student numbers high so he could maintain staff numbers high enough to ensure he had two assistant principals. he always encouraged students who had trouble with other schools to enroll at our school. with two assisitant principals he didn’t have much to do. i think you get the picture.

  7. Do people ask doctors and nurses what provision should be made for patients who are too violent or awkward to be treated?

    Doctors and nurses are expected to treat everyone who needs treatment.

    Which is lucky, as certain illnesses and injuries can overcome anyone’s inhibitions and cause violence, such as head injuries or hallucinations.

    And of course, a big man who is unconscious can be very awkward to deal with, but that’s hardly a reason for refusing to treat them. I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that when my 6’4″ cousin collapsed with a fit the medical system dealt with him as effectively as they did when another two-year old cousin had a fit, even though of course lifting an unconscious fully-grown man is far more awkward than lifting an unconscious 2-year old.

  8. “Doctors and nurses are expected to treat everyone who needs treatment.”

    Every hospital and doctors’ surgery I’ve been in recently has had a big sign up saying that anyone being abusive or violent will be forced to leave. In the case of doctors it has also said they will be required to register with another doctor if this happens.

  9. As a parent of an ASD student, it is very hard to read these comments from – I assume – teachers. Are you grouping, say, autistic students, in your mix of “non-learners”?

  10. “Are you grouping, say, autistic students, in your mix of “non-learners”?”

    Only autistic students who don’t learn.

    Do you think they should be in mainstream education even if they aren’t learning there?

  11. My son also has ASD and I didn’t read the post like that. His learning at school was prevented by children who bullied him and disrupted class continually. They were considered ‘normal’, though this may just have been an excuse to do nothing about them or the situation.

    This blog constantly reinforces what I saw myself while working in schools – it’s a battleground out there, far tougher than most parents wish to admit.

  12. I don’t think you really satisfactorily answer this. The truth is that there’s quite a lot of permanent exclusion already (coupled with effective exclusion through permanent truancy) and these students are then ‘recommended for education other than at school’. Which means they go to college and are in classes with 16+ students. Now I’ve seen it work very well (I’ve got students As at A Level who had been so recommended, gone through a second-chance GCSE programme, etc.) but it doesn’t seem thought through or structured. And your proposals seem less so.

  13. I’m sorry but there are not a lot of permanent exclusions already:

    As a percentage of school population:

    1997-98: 0.16%
    1998-99: 0.14%
    1999-2000: 0.11%
    2000-01: 0.12%
    2001-02: 0.12%
    2002-03: 0.12%
    2003-04: 0.13%
    2004-05: 0.12%
    2005-06: 0.12%

    This is just over one in a thousand pupils. Yet in a big comprehensive school (like the ones I’ve worked in) there are literally dozens of kids who are learning virtually nothing while disrupting those who do want to learn. I would suggest that the number of students who need intervention on behaviour (not necessarily permanent exclusion but more than a telling off) is probably somewhere around 5% of the mainstream school population.

    Sending them to colleges, managed moves and internal exclusions are all poorly “thought through” alternatives to permanent exclusion and while they may sometimes work they are far less effective in ensuring order within schools because very often the worst kids are returned.

  14. REOTAS isn’t an alternative to, but a result of. And over 1 in a thousand seems like ‘quite a lot’ to me – these things are relative I suppose.

  15. I fail to see how less than 1 student per school can be a lot. Every school I’ve ever worked at had multiple students in every year group who were gaining nothing from their schooling other than a constant stream of victims.

  16. If complete exclusion is the ultimate sanction (which I assume you agree it is) then it would be stupid to over-use it; if pupils were being excluded all over the place then pupils would come to see it as normal and not be in the least deterred by it. At the moment complete exclusion is still a reasonably potent threat.

  17. Threats don’t become more potent by not being carried out. Any kid can see that you are unlikely to be permanently excluded.

  18. Re-open the schools for naughty children. Make the schools boarding schools. Lessons every day except Sunday, on Sundays they attend a 3 hour church service in Latin. Allow the teachers at these schools total control over when and what the children eat, when they use the toilet, what they wear etc. Insist that they do forced PE for 2 hours at the end of the day followed by 2 hours homework. AS they will not be at home draining their parent/parents resources take away the child benefit for said child. On the first sunday of every month release 2 into the community where they can be hunted for sport. Should any not behave send them to live on an island in the North Sea(as Madagascar is too far away) occasionally releasing hungry she bears to keep the population down.

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