Archive for November, 2019

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Another look at exclusions and race

November 17, 2019

About a year ago I wrote this post looking at the data on permanent exclusions and ethnicity.

I had often seen it claimed that the differing rates of permanent exclusions in different ethnic groups were evidence of racism and grounds to reduce, restrict or stop exclusions.

In that post I observed the following:

  • The numbers involved are actually tiny. This means that a) no ethnic group is affected massively by permanent exclusions, and b) if somebody claims there is racism driving these figures, they are talking about the actions of far less than 1% of heads, which could be individually scrutinised, not “institutional racism” or “unconscious bias” throughout the system.
  • While individuals should always be judged as individuals, there is absolutely no reason to assume that the extreme behaviours that result in exclusion will be constant across different demographics. Different ethnic groups do not have the same history, social class, religion, geographical location, type of school attended and so on. To assume the same behaviours from all demographics would be wishful thinking.
  • The differences between ethnic groups above, conform to no obvious pattern of widely held prejudices. Does anyone believe that black African children experience far less racial prejudice than black Caribbean children? Or that Pakistani Muslim children are subjected to less racial prejudice than white children?

Since then I’ve had a few more things to think about.

The first is that anecdotally, at least one teacher has told me of their experience of exclusions being affected by prejudice. This does not mean that it is common, but it is something that should not be dismissed even if it is unlikely to be affecting the averages. However, if it is the case that some school leaders let prejudice affect their decisions on exclusions, then this is not necessarily a case to make all heads less able to exclude. It would be a reason to make grounds for exclusion clearer and more objective. It should be possible to say, “Well, you didn’t exclude a white child for the same thing.”. However, if schools did set clearer grounds for exclusions, it is likely to drive exclusions up, not down. It is easy to make exceptions to keep kids in school, far harder to push them out with no good reason. Greater consistency in the use of exclusions would be a “no excuses” approach, not an “a lot more excuses” approach. There is also no reason to assume a reduction in exclusions would change relative rates of exclusions.

A further development is that the Timpson Review tried controlling for all other factors when looking at the different rates of exclusion between different ethnic groups.

The discrepancies between ethnic groups were massively reduced, with only 3 groups being more likely to be excluded than white children. This suggests my argument from the previous post was correct, it also reduces still further the number of heads whose decisions might have contributed to the disparities from a few hundred (out of tens of thousands) to a few dozen, making talk of “institutional racism” even less plausible.

Does the remaining disparity provide good evidence of racism? Not really. We still wouldn’t expect total uniformity of exclusion rates after controlling for all those other factors, even in the complete absence of prejudice. This research controlled for the data schools keep, but not for all possible factors. It won’t control for peer group or for crime in the local area, or any other factor schools don’t keep records on. Any imperfections in the data will also have an effect as controlling for other factors requires accurate data.  We still cannot assume racism is the explanation for the remaining disparities. What we do know from this, is that prejudice can, at worst, only be a marginal factor in permanent exclusions and cannot be a reason to restrict or reduce exclusions.

And finally, there is the issue of just how subjective attempts to prove prejudice from data can be. In a completely different context (football), research by Silberzahn and Uhlmann looked at how the same data can lead to drastically different conclusions.

Twenty-nine teams involving 61 analysts used the same data set to address the same research question: whether soccer referees are more likely to give red cards to dark-skin-toned players than to light-skin-toned players. Analytic approaches varied widely across the teams, and the estimated effect sizes ranged from 0.89 to 2.93 (Mdn = 1.31) in odds-ratio units. Twenty teams (69%) found a statistically significant positive effect, and 9 teams (31%) did not observe a significant relationship. Overall, the 29 different analyses used 21 unique combinations of covariates. Neither analysts’ prior beliefs about the effect of interest nor their level of expertise readily explained the variation in the outcomes of the analyses. Peer ratings of the quality of the analyses also did not account for the variability. These findings suggest that significant variation in the results of analyses of complex data may be difficult to avoid, even by experts with honest intentions.

How could teams of researchers differ in their conclusions, when looking at the same set of data? A lot came down to what controls were considered relevant and what statistical tests seemed appropriate. I don’t suggest that this makes it impossible to ever demonstrate prejudice. But if professional statisticians can differ as to what data shows, we should perhaps be more sceptical at the certainty with which the politically motivated draw simple conclusions about racism from raw figures. And that applies whether the conclusions are being reached about school exclusions, the level of diversity of speakers at a conference or in arguments about whether people’s lists of favourite tweeters are representative or not.

If people wish to believe that exclusions are evil, or that schools are institutionally racist, they will. But the evidence is simply not there in the figures for permanent exclusions, and there is absolutely no reason to think reducing, restricting or banning permanent exclusions will address any injustice.

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The Difference – An education charity that gets it very wrong about exclusions

November 10, 2019

As you may know, I have delivered a talk at some researchED events about the evidence that permanent exclusions are necessary and, if anything, they are a bit rarer than they should be. After the national researchED conference, my attention was drawn to the charity The Difference. Their Twitter bio now says:

Bringing the best in education to those children who need it most. Training specialist leaders in Yorkshire, North West, London & South England.

However, their original emphasis seems to have been on exclusions, and their bio used to say:

Fighting to break the link between social exclusion and school exclusion. Our mission: to place excellent teachers in alternative provision schools.

In July, the NAHT made it clear The Difference are trying to reduce exclusions.

The podcast describes “exclusions” as “top of the government’s agenda” and explains that the charity gives school leaders a placement in AP with, “the ultimate aim of reducing school exclusion”. (It also claims that, “every cohort of excluded kids costs the state an extra £2.1 billion” which is around £300 000 per child, something I’d love to see the source for). It is assumed throughout that permanent exclusion is something that happens to, “the most vulnerable students”, rather than in order to protect the vulnerable, and that exclusions should be reduced.

As a school teacher, I have experienced what happens when schools try to avoid excluding – teachers and students are abused, attacked and intimidated while those in charge congratulate themselves for not excluding.  I shared what other teachers experienced in this post “What happens when schools don’t permanently exclude?”. It makes terrifying reading.

The Difference website is even clearer about what they are up to. Their one and only blogpost is an article originally from the TES entitled “How to teach challenging pupils and never exclude them” and it quotes David Whitaker, who is the director of learning at a trust that doesn’t exclude, and who supports the work of The Difference:

He recalls how at both his first placement at the Priory School in Barnsley and his first job at Kingstone School in the same South Yorkshire town that he had found his calling.

“When I had that job in Kingstone, I was teaching 30 kids in a class. You very rarely had a teaching assistant and there was no behaviour structure or system that was there to rescue you. When the door closed behind you you were on your own. You didn’t have a behaviour structure to support you.

“What I had to do is earn the respect of the class, teach really, really well. And if those kids were running around on the desks I had to get them down on my own with my personality and they needed to want to get down off the desks.”

He describes the experience as being daunting but he also believes it is where he learned what he considers is essential to managing behaviour – building up relationships with the pupils. And he worries that some of this is being lost in mainstream education.

“What happens now is that if a kid runs around on the desk there is a button you can press and someone comes and takes the kid out.  At the risk of sounding controversial I think we are at risk of deskilling.”

Incredible as it seems that anyone could suggest that it is, “deskilling” to support teachers faced with a attempted riot, I am not surprised as I had previously read a Guardian article about Whitaker; in it he described the approach he used (not at a mainstream school) to his staff being repeatedly abused:

One 11-year-old girl, Whitaker recalls, responded with a curt “Fuck off!” every single morning for a year. That particular response would be met with instant isolation, detention or expulsion in many schools – but not at [this school]…

Instead of disciplining her, teachers paid the girl more positive attention in an attempt to understand the angst she was bringing from home. Within a year, she had stopped her morning outburst and got along with school staff….

….[the school’s] teachers vow to approach every child with what they call, “unconditional positive regard” – or in Whitaker’s words they, “batter the children with kindness”. It’s in sharp contrast to the “no excuses” approach used in a growing number of schools…

At [this school], Whitaker says, it means rewarding children for the smallest things – like being kind to fellow pupils – and not punishing bad behaviour. “I could have a kid that spits in my face today and tomorrow I’ll be OK with them,” he says. And if a pupils throws over a table and swears at the teacher? “The teacher would be really nice to them, talk nicely….

Now, I realise that in AP teachers have to accept there may be more challenging behaviour than at a mainstream school  But The Difference exists to take approaches from AP and apply them in mainstream schools in order to reduce exclusions. It matters if any AP providers are tolerating abusive behaviour, refusing to punish and then mainstream SLT are meant to learn from this and apply it. As a teacher who does not want to be told to accept abuse and disruption, I am concerned about which approaches from AP The Difference may be promoting in mainstream education.

Worse though, it has been accepted that The Difference are experts. Kiran Gill, the Chief Executive of The Difference was part of the Timpson Review of Schools Exclusions and gave evidence to the Education Select Committee. She made her beliefs clear to the committee.

Thelma Walker: Would you suggest then that, if the curriculum in mainstream were inclusive and met the needs of children in mainstream, there would be fewer children in AP? Obviously, if it was more inclusive and the staff were appropriately trained, then that early intervention in mainstream would avoid the high numbers that are going into AP.

Kiran Gill: I think that is ideal. …. if we know exclusion levels were lower, then we know we can return to lower exclusion levels.

Thelma Walker: If you have senior leaders that buy into inclusivity, the holistic whole-child curriculum and positive behaviour management, then that will prevent—

Kiran Gill: Absolutely. That is our theory of change. As David said, we need to attract people and there need to be incentives. The Difference programme seeks to recruit existing mainstream teachers who are committed to becoming specialists, to upskill them in a placement in alternative provision, and also to broker them for future leadership opportunities back in the mainstream sector. It is that leadership that is an incentive.

Now, there is no reason progressives who believe that we should stop excluding should be silenced, but we need to stop treating people with this ideology as “experts” rather than campaigners. This blogpost was prompted by the fact that there was a conference run by The Difference yesterday, and there were a couple of things claimed at the conference and then shared by their Twitter account.

 

This was later deleted

Fuller context, to the second tweet was given by the TES:

Obviously, neither of these claims are true. (If anyone disagrees I’m happy to discuss it in the comments.) I am going to suggest that schools, policy makers and politicians simply stop listening to groups like The Difference. They are willing to spread information that I think most school leaders would dispute. This serves a clear ideological commitment to reducing exclusions. They should be free to disseminate their political opinions as an ideological campaign, but we need to move on from letting this anti-teacher, anti-discipline agenda be promoted in schools.

 

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13th Blogaversary

November 9, 2019

I haven’t been blogging as much lately, and I do hope to get back to more regular blogging. However, I don’t want to miss marking the fact that this blog has now existed for more than 13 years.

My last “birthday” post is here: 12 years a blogger.

Since then, the education debate seems to have focused more and more on behaviour. As traditionalist ideas on pedagogy and curriculum have become mainstream, progressives have focused on a campaign against discipline, arguing that everything secondary schools do to keep order is cruel or selfish and should be banned or regulated. My posts of the last 12 months reflect that shift.

These two posts covered the debate about exclusions.

These two posts covered the campaign against internal exclusion (called “booths” by those who wish to ban or regulate it) which has gained the support of a host of politicians, bureaucrats and charities, but has staggeringly little public support.

These posts cover the ideology and values behind this anti-discipline campaign.

These two posts discussed other aspects of behaviour:

As well as behaviour, I’ve also written about the bullying behaviour that MATs, schools or individuals receive, particularly for enforcing rules or arguing against educational progressivism. One notable event of the year was that I left the NEU, having been a member of it or its predecessor, the NUT, for 17 years, because when it comes down to supporting their members or advancing their ideology, they consistently chose the latter, even if it means supporting hate campaigns against schools and teachers.

For most of the last 12 months, I worked at a school that was subjected to a shaming, and saw first hand the effect it has on teachers and how unrelated to reality the accusations can be. I will probably wait a bit longer before I blog about this, but it confirmed exactly how little outsiders, or in some cases a tiny number of hostile parents, actually know about the schools they criticise and how vile the behaviour is that teachers can be subjected to as a result of a hate campaign.

I’ve also written a few posts about ideology in education.

Then there were two posts about teacher autonomy:

And finally, in a class of its own, this is what teachers told me about work scrutinies:

In other news:

  • the level of abuse on edutwitter is probably at a all time high, so I’m aiming to adjust the balance towards spending more time on blogging and less on tweeting.
  • I have prepared a talk on the exclusions issue which I have now given three times at researchED events, and am keen to repeat elsewhere if you want to invite me.
  • I wrote a chapter about “attachment myths” in the researchED book on Education Myths, available here.
  • I got engaged.
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