Action against exclusion – overcoming punishment logic
I can’t remember being punished when I was little. Maybe because I wasn’t.
Nursery school was stuck together with Tapwata glue and story time, primary school was open fires in the winter and playing outside in summer, with the first stirrings of maths and latin. Presumably I wasn’t in need of punishment to make me a better small person.
But secondary school was something else. I left my homework on the bus, was disbelieved by Mr. Liddell my maths teacher and a man I loved and, shockingly, beaten by him with his size 12 in front of the whole class. I can feel the hot shame of it now. I was eleven. Maybe I failed Elementary Maths twice at GCSE in delayed protest, maybe I’m just bad. At maths. I was also treated to the sight of other boys being beaten in front of the whole school at assembly time. Big shaming. Big logic.
I was taken out of Grammar school and sent to my local fee-paying school instead, I had no idea why and I wasn’t asked at the time. I was glad to leave GS because I hated it. I was beaten in my new school too, with a cane, by the diminutive Mr. Davies. I’d made a painty mess of a locker room door and the punishment clearly worked because my locker-door spoiling days ended there and then.
As he was applying the ultimate sanction, the last resort, a good beating, the logic of punishment caught my attention. He invited me in and told me I was in for six, on account of the seriousness of my offence. If I was allowed to get away with it, everyone would start defacing locker doors and then where would we be? But, but, but …… I only did it because the locker room mantelpiece was newly painted and when I touched it to check if it was still wet – it was – my friend Robert pressed my hand into it. What could I do with a freshly painted hand? Well, obviously, make a lovely hand print on a locker door. And when Mr. D., simultaneously in a towering rage and detective mode, made all of us line up to see whose hand fitted the print, mine didn’t. Because Robert had applied such pressure it made a bigger print than my actual hand. I was half-way along the line and after we had all passed through and failed the test, seeing Mr. D’s crestfallen look, I sought him out and told him it was me. What courage. What honesty. What silliness.
Anyway, back to the logic of punishment. He took a short run-up but misjudged the amount of back-swing required and on the second hit he broke the cane on me. To be honest we were both of us surprised and disappointed, in our own ways. He told me to wait while he looked for another cane. I challenged his logic. I told him that my understanding was that the punishment was automatically terminated with the failure of the punishing device and I was off. He didn’t try to stop me, I didn’t turn back and the event was never mentioned again. Except by my mates who treated me as some kind of survivalist hero.
Thirty five years later I found myself newly appointed to the permanent part-time job of science teacher in a 11-16 pupil referral unit. For the rest of my week I was a specialist behaviour advisory teacher, telling schools how to manage children who forgot things or messed up the furniture, some of whom would appear in my PRU class in due course. Exclusion from school, the new last resort. And me dropped right into it, working in schools and sticking to the logic of punishment.
My job was predicated on punishment logic. My mission is to deconstruct it.
Punishing children by excluding them from class, playground, school trips, school itself, so they can have a think about what they did wrong and feel bad about it for a while seems to make sense if you don’t bother to ask questions about it. Having learned their lesson, the child will henceforth behave impeccably.
But what if they don’t? People in positions of power in and around government claim that exclusion is necessary part of a functional school system, that without the final sanction of permanent exclusion and all the other forms of punishment by exclusion leading up to it schools will surely fall into chaos.
According to Sir John Townsley, knighted by Cameron for services to education, his ‘Positive Discipline and Behaviour’ is “clear, tight model for punishing and sanctioning behaviour that is absolutely not open to discussion or negotiation”. And there’s the fault line, as clear as a crack in a crystal. Everything changes in a changing world and absolute rules deny the nature of human existence.
Exclusion as the ‘last resort’ can only be sustained if there’s no alternative. If there is an alternative which results in exclusion being displaced by inclusion, if the proven adverse side effects of exclusion outweigh its supposed beneficial effects, then exclusion must be abandoned.
How do schools operate safely and effectively without the final sanction of exclusion being available? What are they doing instead? Evidence is being accumulated in response to these questions.
Meanwhile, I am continuing on my mission to answer this question; Is there a structured educational practice, carried out by school staff to enable children to learn their way to mental health, wellbeing and academic success who might otherwise become excluded?
There is. It is Solutions Focused Coaching for students.