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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.

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