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Permanent exclusions are necessary

October 6, 2018

Back in May, I wrote a post, If we are not careful, history will repeat itself on exclusions, arguing that complaints about a rise in permanent exclusions were something we had seen before, and were misguided.

I made the following points:

  1. Exclusion is a last resort. No school casually uses permanent exclusions. Nobody who doesn’t work in a school needs to tell us this is how it should be. This is not the same as it being a bad thing or showing a school doesn’t care.
  2. Permanent exclusions are necessary for the safety of children and teachers. The stories of what happens when schools don’t exclude are horrific. Anyone suggesting exclusions should be reduced, should explain exactly why more assaults, vandalism, dangerous behaviour and disruption should be tolerated. And if they are not willing to work in a dangerous environment themselves, or send their own kids into one, they should explain why they think it’s okay for teachers and okay for everyone else’s children to be put at risk.
  3. There is no mystery about increased exclusions. Schools were given more power to protect their staff and students and used it. Ideologues suggesting that the rise in exclusions is an accidental side effect of strict discipline policies, school league tables or a more academic curriculum should be called out for their transparent attempt to use this issue to advance their own preexisting ideological concerns.
  4. Attempts to reduce exclusions were a disaster here, and they have been a disaster in other countries too (e.g. Australia and the U.S.). Any attempt to limit exclusions will simply result in more tolerance for dangerous and violent behaviour.
  5. Exclusions are for the benefit of the victims, not the perpetrators. It is not meant to be therapy. Exclusions are needed because nobody should go into school wondering if they will be assaulted or abused today and knowing that the perpetrators will not be stopped.
  6. If permanent exclusions are not allowed to happen through the official channels, there is every reason to think they will happen unofficially, with schools forcing kids out in other ways, which will have fewer safeguards and be less open to scrutiny. And this is not a sign that some school leaders are morally depraved and corrupt and hate children. This is because some school leaders will do anything to protect their staff and students.

I meant to write at greater length about other objections to exclusions, but I soon realised that so many of the objections to exclusions were actually ideological that instead I ended up writing about progressive views of behaviour.

These posts covered 3 main areas of belief:

  1. Children need to be liberated from adult authority.
  2. Bad behaviour is the result of unmet needs.
  3. Bad behaviour is the fault of teachers.

I think these beliefs are vital in understanding much of the opposition to exclusions. If you believe that children are natural saints, then exclusions are seen as:

  1. An attempt to oppress children.
  2. An alternative to meeting “unmet needs”.
  3. A sign that schools are not caring or competent enough.

These core positions seem to motivate almost all of the opposition to permanent exclusions. The argument will constantly be reframed in order to make one or other of these points. It has become necessary to explain why exclusions are needed and why schools should not be blamed for using them or obstructed from using them.

In this post I intend to explain why exclusions are actually necessary. There is one fact above all others that I throw in the face of the anti-exclusion lobby to explain why it is so important that schools be under adult authority, quoted here from the Daily Mirror;

Data last year showed 5,500 alleged sexual offences were recorded in UK schools – including more than 600 alleged rapes – over three years.

Another 4,000 alleged physical sexual assaults were recorded, the data revealed.

This is my starting point because it disrupts the narratives above. When teachers argue that rapes are bad, they are not being oppressive; they are being decent. When teachers argue that nobody has an “unmet need” that requires them to be a rapist, they are not being unsympathetic; they are showing sympathy for the victims. When teachers argue that rape is not caused by “bad relationships” or poor teaching, they are not excusing their own failings; they are arguing for order and safety in schools.

Once we have established that the progressive narratives fail and fail badly when we consider just how dangerous schools are, we can move on to a more sensible discussion. We can start with the position that our schools are not safe enough, and we can ask the obvious questions:

  1. Should we make our schools more safe or less safe?
  2. Does tolerating violent or out of control children make schools more safe or less safe?
  3. Who is best qualified to make decisions about making schools safe: appeals panels, bureaucrats and therapists, or headteachers?

I strongly believe that all reasonable people will argue that we need our schools to be as safe as possible. I think it requires only a moment’s thought to realise that safety requires zero tolerance of violence and for children not to be out of control. It’s also obvious that to prevent violence and to keep order in schools, headteachers should be able to make the decision to exclude without being demonised or obstructed by people who have no concern for the safety of the victims of bad behaviour.

Of course, the anti-exclusions lobby will attempt to reframe the debate. They will argue that the exclusions they wish to prevent are the “bad exclusions” that have nothing to do with making schools safe, which can only be done with “good exclusions” that they are not against. After all, they will say, we don’t want to keep rapists in school. However, they have to explain two things. Will they acknowledge that, while not all violent and out of control children are rapists, tolerating violent and out of control children will make it hard to keep children safe? Secondly, anyone saying that violent and out of control children should be kept in school, but rapists shouldn’t, needs to explain where they draw the line. Is sexual assault okay? How about repeated physical assaults? How about bringing in knives? How about rape threats? How about intimidation? How about a child who is just doing whatever they like and does not care if an adult says “stop”? Anyone accepting that some children should not be kept in school, needs to consider what they are prepared to tolerate, or rather what they are expecting the staff and children in schools to tolerate. How many would work in, or send their own child to, a school where they would not feel safe? The debate should not be about whether exclusions are good or bad, it is about what behaviour we, as a society, are willing to tolerate in schools.

This is not the whole argument. We still need to argue over whether current exclusion processes are fair, whether there are plausible alternatives to exclusion, or whether the right kids are excluded. But we should be doing so from a starting point that says: schools should be as safe as possible, and that if a child is violent or out of control, the dangers of doing nothing (or doing something that does not work) are potentially extreme. And if acting to keep schools safe means more exclusions, then that’s just fine.

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2 comments

  1. It’s ironic how the safeguarding agenda has become the holiest of holies–but only in regard to protecting children from adults. This sort of thinking was openly expressed by Basil Bernstein, who saw infant schools as revolutionary cells and adults as the enemy:
    “We can also see that the pre-school/infant school movement from one point of view is a progressive, revolutionary, colonizing movement in its relationships to parents, and its relationships to educational levels above itself. It is antagonistic for different reasons to middle-class and working-class families, for both create a deformation of the child. It is antagonistic to educational levels above itself, because of its fundamental opposition to their concepts of learning and social relationships. We can note here that as a result the child is abstracted from his family and his future educational contexts.”
    In reality, constructivist dogma guarantees the need for exclusions. As Sweller and others have demonstrated, only experts can usefully construct their own meanings. When young chlldren are expected to do so, any meanings they manage to construct are trivial and more often than not, wrong (I’ve just been correcting a simple arithmetic test for Year 7s). Enduring the pointless frustration of failure and being denied real opportunities to learn and achieve will have a corrosive effect on all children, and a disastrous one on children whose parents can’t supply enough support to compensate.


  2. I don’t disagree with any of this, but I think there is a wider context. When a pupil in my form at a rural comprehensive was excluded I (and pupils in my form) had no idea where he was likely to end up. However as a foster carer in an urban area, often looking after kids that have been excluded, the picture is very different. I have found pupils in mainstream education in my town know all about, and are aware of, how little work is done by students in the PRU and EBD schools. Mainstream students often have friends doing short days/partial timetables (sometimes 1 day per week) in alternative education provision. It is no exaggeration to say I often have to work hard to persuade young people in my care that to be excluded and sent to a PRU/special school is a disaster, and not an aspiration.

    With the magic of social media, young people in PRUs, special schools or not being educated at all, tend to come together. Of course for better pupils this is all usually irrelevant, but for “less engaged” students the malign draw of this body of young people, enjoying greater free time and reduced workloads, is a real problem. Prior to fostering these kids, I had never imagined worrying about the impact of some other child being excluded on my own, but I do now.

    Of course none of this undermines the case for protecting teachers and the majority of students from the actions of a small minority. However so long as PRUs etc are just as helpless to deal with these issues as mainstream schools then excluding pupils is not problem solved. In my town there are networks of young people outside of mainstream education who are at the centre of much anti-social behaviour, who draw others into their lifestyle, and seem to gullible youngsters to have it made.



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