It has been fascinating to see the growing debate about exclusion, especially among commentators and teachers in England. It has been equally interesting to hear the concerns in Scotland that the apparent reduction in exclusions from schools is illusory and where a reduction has been achieved it has been at the expense of staff. They, it is argued, pay the price in assaults, threats and increased stress.
It is the wrong discussion.
Exclusion is a problem in England for all sorts of reasons, but one is that the system is so fragmented. Schools are more isolated. Central services are diminished. There is much less alternative provision, and far less clarity about the procedures, for dealing with young people whose behaviour is deemed uncontrollable. Despite all of this the debate seems to be all about what schools and teachers can be expected to put up with, rather than whether, or not, we have the right range of provision for young people.
Autonomy for schools too often comes at the expense of the most troubled children. In Scotland, the government is looking to maximise the power of headteachers without, it would seem, much thought as to what the implications might be for these young people. In the world of empowered schools there have to be powerful safeguards for all young people, but, as ever, the safeguards need to be strongest for the most vulnerable. There seems little indication that this is embedded in the Headteachers’ Charter.
All children should be a collective responsibility for society. That principle is at the heart of the United Nations Charter for the Rights of the Child. Perhaps we need to do more to make sure that we have the collective structures that honour that responsibility. In the whole exclusion debate that barely seems to feature.
Language matters so much. Jenn Knussen and her colleagues at Pitteuchar East Primary in Glenrothes (www.fifecirect.org.uk/pitteuchareastps) talk about the transformation that took place in the school when they stopped talking about “challenging behaviour” and started to talk about “distressed behaviour”. We might make more progress if we stopped talking about exclusion and started to talk more about appropriate provision. One thing is certain, young people have a range of needs so we have to have a spectrum of provision.
Will we get that within a fragmented system rooted in school autonomy?