Archive for November, 2018


What happens when a school listens to campaigners against internal exclusion?

November 28, 2018

We’ve had a lot of attacks on schools for keeping kids safe lately.

When schools exclude they are accused of leading kids into knife crime or being racist. When they use managed moves, or help kids find a more suitable education, they are accused of off-rolling. When they have strict rules, or simply enforce the rules that most schools have, they are accused of being draconian. For a lot of ideologues, any attempt to enforce the will of adults on children, no matter how advantageous it is to the interests of the majority of children, is oppression and cruelty.

So it was only a matter of time before the use of “isolation” came under fire. The campaign has been less than clear, presumably because “isolation” sounds more like imprisonment than support, and clarity would only undermine the campaign. Some seem to be objecting to the mere act of removing a child from a lesson they are disrupting. However, most seem to be objecting to internal exclusion. This is when a child is kept out of lessons after serious, persistent or defiant behaviour but is not sent home. This is mainly used to avoid Fixed Term Exclusions, i.e. suspension from school, and is appropriate when there are safeguarding issues at home; when there is reason to think a child might welcome exclusion or when the original offence is so serious that more than five days exclusion is appropriate, and something (legally) needs to be provided after five days.

Few teachers, particularly in non-selective, state secondaries object to internal exclusion, particularly as the alternatives are more controversial or more obviously harmful. But a lot of non-teachers seem to have got this campaign going. I noticed Paul Dix, a behaviour consultant, featuring in a lot of the coverage, eg. from the BBC:

Paul Dix says he has probably visited more isolation facilities than anyone else in his work as a behavioural consultant in schools across England.

He says he has seen 50 children at one time in isolation in one school and children with Asperger’s syndrome and ADHD in isolation rooms and met one child who said they had spent 36 days in isolation in one school year.

“That is not education, it is a custodial sentence,” he said.

“Where’s the regulation around it, where’s the reporting, where is the accountability?”

He said he has heard of pupils being placed into isolation for not bringing a pen or wearing the right shoes.

Paul says disruptive pupils may need to be removed from classrooms but believes they should be returned after a short period and a discussion of their behaviour with an experienced teacher.

“That is the intelligent way. Isolation is desperation,” he said.

I think it is worth considering whether he knows what he is doing when he advises schools to limit internal exclusion. A few years ago he wrote a blogpost praising a school for reducing its use of “the referral room”:

The behaviour at QK have [sic] improved so dramatically in the past year and staff are to be applauded for their efforts. When I first visited the referral room, it was full with a queue of students lining up outside the door. On this day of training, there was just one child in the referral room, yesterday there had been none.

This is a whole school approach, every adult singing from the same song sheet, led by the vision of an excellent Head [name removed] and driven by the determination of all adults to create a school where excellent behaviour is normalized. And it is working brilliantly.

A couple of years later, while still being led by the same “excellent” head, OFSTED inspected the school and found:

Previously good personal development, welfare and behaviour [i.e. from before the above blogpost was written] have deteriorated and are inadequate. Leaders have not secured a consistent and effective approach to tackling poor behaviour…

Leaders and managers have not maintained pupils’ good behaviour and positive attitudes to learning since the previous inspection. They have not ensured that staff are confident to challenge disorderly behaviour and use effective methods to deal with disruption. As a result of an inconsistent approach to dealing with discipline in classrooms, pupils’ learning is diminished.

In the survey of staff views, less than half of those who responded agreed that pupils’ behaviour is at least good…

Newly qualified teachers should not be appointed at the school because pupils’ behaviour is inadequate…

The governing body has not held the school’s leaders sufficiently to account in order to secure rapid and sustained improvements. They are aware that the quality of teaching is variable, that assessment information is not precise enough and that behaviour in lessons disrupts learning. However, members of the governing body have not ensured that leaders have addressed these key priorities for development sufficiently rapidly…

Some pupils do not feel safe at school because they have little confidence in the way the school deals with concerns about bullying. Too many pupils expressed concerns about the standard of behaviour in lessons and the way disruption is dealt with…

Pupils and parents reported variability in the response from staff to bullying issues they raise. Pupils’ confidence in the school’s determination and ability to take action to keep pupils safe from bullying is weak.

Pupils said they are unable to focus fully on their learning when they are worried about disorderly behaviour of pupils in classrooms. As a result, pupils’ emotional and social development is not supported effectively…

The behaviour of pupils is inadequate.

Pupils told inspectors that their learning was regularly interrupted by the poor conduct and lack of self-discipline of a significant minority of their peers. Some pupils lack respect towards other pupils and staff. Inspectors observed examples of pupils’ deliberately disorderly actions. The school’s records of pupils’ behaviour over time show that, across a variety of subjects, pupils’ behaviour contributes to reduced learning.

The proportion of pupils who have been excluded from school for a fixed period of time has decreased since the previous inspection and is below average. The proportion of all pupils and of disadvantaged pupils excluded from school on more than one occasion has also decreased and is smaller than the national average. However, rates of fixed term exclusions remain well above the national average, including for disadvantaged pupils and pupils who have special educational needs and/or disabilities.

I’m glad to say the school has now reopened under a new name (which is why I have not attempted to hide which school it was) and new leadership and that the new school has a behaviour policy that includes provision for internal exclusion. But there are still schools out there paying to get the same behaviour advice as the old school did.

Obviously, you never know how accurate an OFSTED report is, or what else the school did to prompt that report. However, I would recommend any school leaders planning to seek advice on behaviour and any politician being lobbied by the opponents of internal exclusion, that they be very careful before they start listening to any “expert” who tells them teachers are wrong to think that internal exclusion works to keep them and their students safe.


Are the words “progressive” and “traditional” biased against educational traditionalists? Part 2

November 24, 2018

For over one hundred years, the standard words used for the two main camps in educational philosophy have been “progressive” and “traditionalist” (in recent years, these have often been shortened to “prog” and “trad” on Twitter). Descriptions of what they mean can be found here from John Dewey writing in the 30s, or here from Alfie Kohn writing ten years ago. In countries where progressive education is unchallenged, or has gone unchallenged for a long period, progressives often deny this history and resent the fact that language exists to describe a debate that they thought they had won forever. However, a more coherent objection to the terms comes from traditionalists. They argue that “progressive” is a positive word, suggesting progressives look to the future, are influenced by science and are politically on the left. “Traditionalist” by contrast sounds old fashioned, uninfluenced by contemporary science and politically right-wing. I wish to look at these arguments in my next few blogposts.

Previously I have linked to one blogpost and shared another where teachers whose educational ideas might be considered traditionalist, rather than progressive, explained why they didn’t like the word “traditionalist”. I don’t have a problem with this term. Nor do I like the term “progressive” even when it is used outside the educational context. I don’t mind having left of centre politics but not progressive politics. It is this argument I want to look at here.

This time I have another blogpost to share which has been published before but is no longer available. At the risk of going off-topic, this is a blogpost about politics rather than education. It was written by a Labour supporter, who is not a teacher, during the days of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition and it makes a case for why left of centre politics do not have to be “progressive”.


Why I am not a progressive

I doubt I’ll shock anyone when I say that I’m not a progressive, or at least that I don’t consider myself to be one – apart from anything else it’s a conversation that often goes in circles round the 140 characters of Twitter, but one I thought probably deserved a slightly longer write-up. It’s also unfortunate (welcome to the Blue Labour debate) that the opposite of progressive is generally seen as conservative, and that this gets confused with Conservative (a party which is certainly not conservative). Clear as mud. Of course I support progressive taxation, but then since our tax system spent most of my life becoming less progressive, that meant I wanted to conserve something.

Anyway. I’m not a progressive because I don’t believe change is automatically, or even usually, for the better. GA Cohen explained this with an extended analogy about a college (long, but worth watching).

Gladys Knight put it more simply –  “as bad as we think they are, these will become the good old days for our children”. Of course science and technology advance, but to read across from that and assume that politics (or, perhaps, even society) move in the same way, seems optimistic at best. It appears that, in this if nothing else, I am normal, and it’s the progressives who are unusual.

Related to this is a problem across much of the left in particular to assume that the grass is greener on the other side. Since I am a million miles away from that mindset, I don’t fully understand it, but it seems to be “Imagine a substantive change you would like; think of an unrelated procedural change; convince yourself that the latter will deliver the former”.

So whether it was the revival of radical socialism that was going to come with AV, the flowering of international solidarity we were going to get by joining the Euro, or the mass democratic renewal that will come by electing 80 senators for 15 years each on the basis of regional STV, energy is diverted from campaigning for substantive change, to campaigning for procedural change. Which is not to say that process doesn’t matter – the institutions which mediate political debate impact massively on the eventual outcomes, of course. A list of things I waste time being against when there are bigger battles to fight, there.

More importantly, ‘progressive’ is a word whose meaning shifts according to who is using it. So, when people wanted to cobble-together an anti-Tory Parliamentary alliance after the last General Election, they dubbed it the “progressive coalition”. When people want to pretend the left has been disadvantaged primarily by the electoral system rather than by often being less popular, they talk of a ‘progressive majority’. When David Cameron wants to sound like a moderate, he talks of Progressive Conservatism. Of course, the “Not left or right, but forward” model of spatial politics was introduced to our discourse by David Icke, but never mind.

I don’t make a habit of linking to Lib Dems, but Andrew Emmerson cites a relevant opinion poll, pointing out that in the public mind, “progressive” is devoid of almost all political content. A majority think it is about being “reforming” or “modernising”. An appreciable number think it is about being “enterprising” or “advanced”. Bringing up the rear are those who believe it means being liberal (16%) or left-wing (7%). On this basis, Cameron’s right – the Coalition is progressive too. Blair was particularly progressive – to the point of neophilia, some of the time it felt as though something merely needed to exist for the government to seek to change it. Organisational restructuring, particularly in health, was done, undone, and redone faster than anyone could realistically hope to evaluate its impact.

Still, there’s a vacancy for a better word, here. Radical conservatism makes a neat sort of intellectual sense, but is even worse marketing than Blue Labour. People calling themselves progressives (hello the London County Council) have done important and valuable things in the history of the left. But I want things to be better, not different for the sake of it, especially not if it puts us at risk of losing that which is already good. If I’m really lucky, by 2015 that’ll be what people think of when they hear the word “Labour”.


Are the words “progressive” and “traditional” biased against educational traditionalists? Part 1

November 18, 2018

For over one hundred years, the standard words used for the two main camps in educational philosophy have been “progressive” and “traditionalist” (in recent years, these have often been shortened to “prog” and “trad” on Twitter). Descriptions of what they mean can be found here from John Dewey writing in the 30s, or here from Alfie Kohn writing ten years ago. In countries where progressive education is unchallenged, or has gone unchallenged for a long period, progressives often deny this history and resent the fact that language exists to describe a debate that they thought they had won forever. However, a more coherent objection to the terms comes from traditionalists. They argue that “progressive” is a positive word, suggesting progressives look to the future, are influenced by science and are politically on the left. “Traditionalist” by contrast sounds old fashioned, uninfluenced by contemporary science and politically right-wing. I wish to look at these arguments in this series of blogposts.

A recent blogpost about not wanting to be called a traditionalist can be found here: A Plea to Drop the TRAD label. An older blogpost on a similar theme has been removed from the site where it originally appeared. So with the permission of the author I’m presenting it here:


I’m a trad but wish it was called something else

I’m a Trad. I reject progressivism for the measurable damage it has done to education and for its corruption of beautiful subjects in the name of the twenty-first century. My heroes are Hirsch, Engelmann and Rosenshine.

Curriculum is King in my classroom. The knowledge dictates the activity, not the other way around. I have no time for distractions in the name of engagement or relevance. The engagement comes from mastery of a noble and powerful subject. The fact that it is not relevant is precisely why it must be taught, and taught well. If I limit my teaching to the interests of my students, or try to force a link, then I have failed those students.

And so because of this ideology if you like, I want to know about what works. I want to know about cognitive science, retrieval practice, and schemas. I want to study the language of curriculum and the philosophy of knowledge, and I curse every day of the eleven years I spent labouring under progressive dogma, days I could have been reading about these things and putting them into practice.
So to summarise my philosophy of teaching, and one I think that many Trads would subscribe to: We are committed to our subjects and we believe our job is to teach these subjects well to our students. We seek out research, techniques, and philosophy to help us do this. We reject progressive doctrine because it is a) not true to our subjects and b) has been shown to hinder the teaching of our subjects.

I have a problem though. All the things I have described above are part of the Traditional Teaching set. But the term “traditional teaching” also refers to the way teaching has  been done traditionally, since Socrates and before. I am going to use “Traditional Teaching” for the current set of ideology, techniques and authorities, the thing that if you subscribe to it you are a Trad, and “traditional teaching” for the teaching that has happened in much the same way through the millenia. There is significant overlap between these two sets but they are not the same thing.

Let’s consider research first. Research into cognitive science is much younger than traditional teaching. Cognitive science has shown why many aspects of traditional teaching are successful: things such as desks facing the front, teachers telling students information, and frequent low-stakes testing. But cognitive science also throws up new things that teaching through the ages hasn’t incorporated. An example of this is the concerns raised by David Didau about reading along to text whilst listening to it.  So although research tends to align with traditional teaching, where research contradicts tradition, I would want to go with the research because I want to teach my subject in the best possible way. Of course it is not as simple as that. Just as scientists subscribe to Popper but act according to Kuhn, and rightly so, we as teachers would not do well to ditch tried-and-tested for every lab-based study that comes our way. But as an ideal, it is important I think in defining our outlook on teaching. In principle, if the evidence showed that a less traditional method was better, I would use it, because of my commitment to my subject.

What about the philosophy of curriculum stuff? When you look at old textbooks you do get a sense that the authors had a much better sense of  core, hinterland and foreshadowing for example., but as far as I know the explicit discussion of it, led so brilliantly by Christine Counsell, is a relatively new phenomenon. I am grateful for the insight it has given me and I see it now as an integral part of my professional identity. I don’t think it is in conflict with traditional teaching at all, but I think the discussions happening now are new and not traditional.

And, this seems so obvious that it’s not worth saying, but I think it perhaps needs remembering, traditional teaching has not made use of visualisers but has very much made use of corporal punishment.

So I think that “Traditional Teaching” doesn’t mean “traditional teaching”, despite the significant overlap. This is a problem for me for a few reasons.

Many of us have colleagues we like and respect who are firmly in the progressive camp. When I talk about “Traditional Teaching” to people in this group, they don’t hear “love of the subject” – they hear “chalkdust and the cane” and I feel I’m set up to fail before I’ve even started. I hesitate to put “Trad” in my Twitter bio in case a colleague comes across it and misunderstands. I’d like to develop my team’s professional identity, as subject specialists, interested in research, rejectors of flim-flammery. The teachers in my team are all these things but they are not familiar with the term Traditional Teaching and I fear that the term will cause some to switch off, because it means something different to them.

And my own professional identity… it’s a great feeling to be part of a community of people who share a philosophy… and it’s an irritating feeling that the name doesn’t really do what a name should do. We have the term “Neo-Trads” and maybe I should seek to identify myself under this banner. But it seems to be used more as a derogatory term and I’m sort of hoping for something that reflects the centrality of the subject to my philosophy.

I liked the sound of Bernard Andrews’ “educational fideism” before I read about it – I still like it but not for the reason I thought. I thought the “fide” was to do with “fidelity” – that’s what I want, fidelity to my subject, but instead it is to do with faith rather than evidence as a justification, and while I think that fits in fine with my philosophy as described above, I’m seeking something different in a name.

“Fidelism” seemed like a good name until I looked it up and learned it was for acolytes of Castro! Not what I was looking for – glad I looked it up! I thought about “subject loyalty”, or perhaps “curriculum loyalty”, but that would make me a “subject loyalist”, and there are of course political connotations there.

A synonym of fidelity is “fealty”. I rather like the sound of “curriculum fealty”. That would make me a “curriculum fealtist”. This term is a more accurate reflection of my educational outlook than “Traditional Teaching”. I’m still a Trad, but I’m clearer about what that means to me now I’ve thought about my problems with the term. I employ methods such as explicit instruction and Shed Loads Of Practice because I am a curriculum fealtist. I read educational research because I am a curriculum fealtist. I think “curriculum fealty” could help me in my own critical ontology and that of my team, and in my conversations with people new to the debate. I’m not suggesting that we start calling Trads “curriculum fealtists”, but I think it might be useful in some contexts, to bring clarity and hopefully bridge some of the gaps in the debate. Curriculum is my king and my country. Onwards and upwards for our beautiful, noble subjects.



Are school shaming and trolling now accepted as normal?

November 11, 2018

I’ve been campaigning against school shaming for quite a while now.

You can look at the posts above, but a rough summary of what I’ve said so far is:

  • A school shaming is when a school is subjected to a hate campaign, i.e. ongoing abuse. This happens through social media, but also by email and phone calls to staff at the school.
  • It is usually provoked initially by criticism of the school in the media, or on social media.
  • Usually schools are criticised for enforcing or having rules people don’t like, but school shamings can be used against any school with even a single disgruntled parent.
  • Schools have been shamed for things that are normal for schools in their circumstances; things that are untrue, and for things where their actions are justified, but cannot be debated due to confidentiality.
  • The control of whether a school shaming happens is almost entirely with those who initiate the campaign, not the school. Schools have reacted in different ways, and so far, complete social media and press silence has appeared to be the best strategy.
  • School shamings escalate from accusations, to abuse incredibly quickly. Comparisons with concentration camps and accusations of child abuse are common. As it the use of the c-word and attacks based on personal appearance.
  • Social media shamings of individuals are best described by this book. School shamings are simply the same idea applied to schools.
  • It is entirely possible to criticise opinions expressed by people at a school, or ideas about how a school is run, without starting a school shaming.
  • More recently, educational progressives have adopted school shaming as a tactic. Schools that are seen as too traditionalist are named and then repeatedly attacked, often progressives return to the same school again and again to dig up more ammunition.
  • A couple of schools subjected to a long series of accusations, as part of a prolonged school shaming, were inspected by OFSTED and none of the allegations were supported.

A typical school shaming. A Twitter progressive with 20 000 followers claims falsely that a named school isn’t for students with special needs. This immediately leads to it being compared to a concentration camp. The original tweeter then ‘likes’ that comment.

Recently, progressives on edutwitter have felt the need to defend school shaming as a tactic. The two main arguments have been:

  • School shaming is just criticism or even a form of accountability. I dealt with this argument here.
  • Schools can’t feel shame. This argument is so obviously silly that I don’t think I’ve answered it but Greg Ashman did here.

Beyond those arguments, most of what has been done to defend school shaming has been trolling those who criticise it. A recent example of this was a blogpost entitled ‘School shaming’ and the reactionary politics of neotrads which declared that those of us who prefer not to see a headteacher called a cunt 20 times, are motivated by right-wing politics. So Greg Ashman, who has been a member of both the UK Labour Party and Australian Labor party is identified among “neoconservative reactionaries”. Katharine Birbalsingh, a black headmistress whose school has mostly black students and who has been subjected to racism online, is accused of not understanding “structural racism”. Most incredibly though, the blog alleges that those of us who object to school shaming are directly influenced by the far right.

Along with phrases appropriated directly from the so-called alt-right, a small group of neotraditionalist educators have invented the concept of ‘school shaming’ to make their reactionary politics seem, well, less reactionary.

And in case you wonder who precisely this is, the group who have invented the concept of school shaming, is later narrowed down:

the empty concept of ‘school shaming’ … seems to have been invented by Andrew Smith (@oldandrewuk),

And, no, he didn’t ask my permission before sharing my real name. So there you have it. In the mind of one troll, whose blog is full of conspiracy theories and identity politics: it’s me who can be linked “directly” to the far right. I’m a lifelong Labour voter who was also a Labour activist and member until I left over the party’s refusal to deal with anti-semitism. I work in an inner city state school with mainly non-white students (unlike the post’s author who works in an extremely expensive private school). Far from being motivated by right-wing politics, I started campaigning against school shaming in reaction to stories in the right-wing Daily Mail newspaper, long before anyone knew that the Daily Mail’s teacher bashing tactics would be adopted by those who claim to be left-wing opponents of racism. This blog is telling a malicious lie.

Now you might ask so what? After all trolling has become common on edutwitter. My employers are more than aware that trolls and schools shamers lie and will not believe I have neo-Nazi sympathies. Why am I bringing up this smear? Because this stuff seems to have become mainstream. I was not upset by the post. It is neither the first false accusation the author has made about me, nor the nastiest thing he has written about Greg Ashman or Katharine Birbalsingh. I was, however, upset by how widely this defamatory and dishonest post was shared.

  1. Schools Week, a publication I have had a long association with, recommended the post in a blog review column written by Debra Kidd.
  2. Stephen Drew, former headteacher and reality TV star, not somebody I associate with school shaming or online trolling, shared it on Twitter saying “It is a work of profound analysis and absolutely nails what is going on in schools”.
  3. Mary Bousted, of the NEU, the largest teaching union, shared the post on Twitter and the blog review and defended both of them. This is despite the fact that I am currently (but not for much longer) a member of her union. When challenged about this the most I could get her to say about the case of one of her members being defamed was “I accept your assertion that you are not aligned with the far right.” Pretty thin stuff after 18 years of union membership on my part.
  4. It was widely shared by progressives on edutwitter including many who work as consultants or educationalists. Some have since been tweeting about how nasty edutwitter is. But few had the moral fibre to see anything wrong with falsely linking a teacher to the far right, or with all the other name calling.

I am of the view that progressives are beginning to realise they may be on the losing side of a paradigm shift in education. I believe that in England they are largely on the defensive. But this has not made them any less dangerous to individual teachers. Stand against their ideology, and they will lie about you, smear you, and try to silence you.


Are Exclusions Fair? Part 3: The Perpetrators

November 3, 2018

I have written a number of posts recently about permanent exclusions and the movement against them. These two posts sum up the issue.

I wrote about the ideology behind some of this.

I also wrote about what happens when schools don’t permanently exclude:

There have been a few recurring arguments that permanent exclusions, as they currently happen, are unfair. I wrote posts addressing whether they are unfair because of SEND or because of racism.

Here I will address the argument that permanent exclusions are bad for those who are excluded, and, therefore, unfair on them.

A lot of the arguments on this issue refer back to the posts above on the progressive narrative on behaviour. According to this ideology, children cannot be held responsible for their behaviour. Therefore, one cannot appeal to desert, or justice, to justify a behaviour sanction. I wrote about this here:

In the permanent exclusion debate, the belief that children have no responsibility for their actions, and require only a modification of behaviour, leads to a complete elimination of the distinction between perpetrators and victims. In reality, when a child is permanently excluded, there exists both a human being who has chosen to harm others, and there are the harmed. In my experience, permanent exclusions rarely happen without violence or intimidation, without other children, or possibly school staff, having been hurt, violated, intimidated, endangered or scared. This is not always clear from the exclusion figures, as those who repeatedly offend are usually excluded for “persistent disruptive behaviour”. While teachers know that in practice this means a child who is completely out of control and usually violent, the non-teachers and politicians who oppose exclusions often seem to think it means asking for a pen or looking out of the window too many times.

As a result it is common in discussions of permanent exclusions for the victims to not be mentioned at all. People talk as if there is nothing more to the issue than the perpetrator and the school and no other child is affected. Often, this narrative is so pervasive that words you would expect to apply to the victims of extreme behaviour, like “vulnerable” are applied instead to the perpetrator. The issue is then discussed as if it was a matter of finding the best therapeutic intervention for this “vulnerable” child. Often, when I raise the issue of the victim of the offence that led to exclusions, I am told that the perpetrator is also a victim. No doubt my deliberate use of the word “perpetrator” here will be considered deeply offensive to those poor, vulnerable children, who may have sexually assaulted a peer, threatened a teacher with rape, or set fire to a building. But this is a key point, when we talk about the fairness of permanent exclusions, we are not talking about finding a therapy for the vulnerable; we are talking about both protecting, and providing some justice, for their innocent, and genuinely vulnerable, victims. That is not to say we can’t consider the interests of the perpetrator at all, just that the victims should come first. Schools can be dangerous places – on average a rape is reported every day in a school in the UK – and no headteacher should be told that the rights of those who would harm others means that they cannot act to keep their schools safe.

This is not to say that we cannot consider the interests of the perpetrators at all, only that it is unfair if that is the priority. Even when we do consider this, we should be very, very careful. The conventional narrative is that allowing a student with extreme behaviour to stay in school is in their best interest and excluding them would be bad for them. Common sense tells us that allowing a child to get away with extreme behaviour will not actually be good for them. While children change, and change a lot during adolescence, they do normally come to see what is accepted as what is permitted. Those who are spared a deserved exclusion rarely reform as a result of that mercy. Opponents of permanent exclusions would give the impression that poor behaviour can be changed through “interventions” and that there are people out there who can change even the most extreme behaviour, just so long as those perpetrators remain in their mainstream school. This is not my experience as a teacher, or that of most classroom teachers I speak to in mainstream secondary schools, but usually it is those who provide the interventions, not those who teach, who are given the opportunity to share their experience. So to balance the tales of compassionate specialists turning round the most violent children by talking about their feelings, here are a couple of tales of what is more normal in my experience. Here is a blogpost by Headteacher Stuart Lock about a badly behaved boy who was kept in school, and left school believing his behaviour had no consequences, only to find out this wasn’t the case in the adult world. Here is a post by me describing the behaviour of a girl whose worst offences never resulted in exclusions. Neither of these sets of experiences are typically considered in the debate over permanent exclusions.

Of course, one would expect there to be some empirical evidence which would show whether permanent exclusion is better than tolerating extreme behaviour, and allow us to see whether it is the anecdotes of teachers or the anecdotes of the anti-exclusion lobby that are more typical. There isn’t. To my knowledge, nobody has ever, or ever would, be given ethical permission to run an RCT comparing permanent exclusions with the alternatives. I should mention that many people in the anti-exclusion lobby seek to conceal this. They will compare outcomes for those kids who were permanently excluded (usually the most out of control, most dangerous and most criminal young people) and those who weren’t (i.e. those who schools felt they could turn round). Inevitably, the outcomes for the former are worse than for the latter. This is not surprising, but you will find that it is often claimed that this shows that exclusion is harmful, as if the exclusion caused the outcome, rather than the extreme behaviour of the child caused both the exclusions and the outcome. At times it is even claimed that permanent exclusions cause criminal behaviour, rather than that criminal behaviour lead to permanent exclusions. This sort of claim should be challenged, but often it is accepted uncritically by the media.

In the absence of any useful data about the effects of permanent exclusions, we have little choice but to rely on school leaders to make sensible judgements about their own schools. Currently, however, they are under fire from politicians and from the education establishment whose sympathies are overwhelmingly with the permanently excluded, and not with their victims, or with teachers or school leaders. I wish I could say that this trend is being successfully resisted, but so far, those of us who want schools to be safe are being drowned out by those who think they can “save” the badly behaved by keeping them where they can have an endless supply of new victims.



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