Internal units are dumping grounds? Evidence of the need for change and for …. evidence
Under this headline Martin George, (6th February 2018 TES) summarised evidence presented to The Commons Education Select Committee at the second evidence session for its inquiry into alternative provision.
*Internal exclusion units in schools can be misused. Professor Gillies gave evidence of units governed by school policy that specified a four to six week intervention period where students may be retained for long periods, up to many years in some cases.
*Financial incentives exist to exclude pupils where the cost is transferred from a school to the Local Authority.
*Insufficient scrutiny “at all levels”; how exclusions are decided, children allocated to alternative provision and returned to mainstream.
* Insufficient information on the performance of individual units, no central records are kept and Ofsted does not inspect internal units.
*Progress 8 and Attainment 8 accountability measures increased the incentive for more exclusions because of the weighting if a child fails.
*Support for a bill of rights for parents (and carers) to set exclusion in the context of human rights and responsibilities.
*Zero tolerance behaviour policies that do not specify children’s legal right to reasonable adjustments could be illegal.
*Concerns about a ‘completely unregulated’ system for alternative provision referrals in sharp contrast to the highly regulated SEND system.
“Zero-tolerance behaviour policies exclude more vulnerable children”
Under this headline Jess Staufenberg (February 6 2018 in Schoolsweek) wrote on the Select Committee hearing.
MPs were warned that increases in exclusions are being driven by “shaming” school behaviour policies backed by the Department for Education and their advisers.
Jane Pickthall, chair of the National Association of Virtual School Heads, overseeing children in care policy at local authorities, said that humiliating classroom control techniques made schools “less inclusive” for children in care and those with mental health needs. Pickthall said “some of the most popular behaviour policies were damaging for pupils most at risk of exclusion.”
She gave an example, endorsed as good practice in the DfE’s behaviour review written by an advisor Mr. Bennett last March, where pupils’ names were placed at the head of a rainbow at the start of the day and those who behaved badly had their name moved across the rainbow to end under a dark cloud.
“That was actually an example in the behaviour review which came out as an example of good practice,” claimed Pickthall. “That is not good practice for vulnerable pupils at all.” Pickthall said that naming and shaming like this caused worse behaviour in pupils “already carrying around a large amount of shame.”
Emma Hardy, a Labour MP and former teacher, questioned whether “extremely strict, rigid, no-excuses behaviour policies” was driving a rise in exclusions and transferral of certain pupils into alternative provision, having witnessed these policies in some “large academy trusts” near her northern constituency of Hull West and Hessle.
Permanent exclusions has been rising over the past two years, and the Institute for Public Policy Research warned that at least 50% of all permanently excluded pupils had a mental illness, with the actual figure “more likely to be 100 per cent”.
School exclusion ‘the ultimate rejection’ for adopted kids.
Katherine Sellgren (BBC News family and education reporter, 11 November 2017) wrote earlier on the impact of exclusion on adopted children, responding to a report by the charity Adoption UK. Their research estimates that adopted children can be up to 20 times more likely to be permanently excluded than their peers.
In the article Sellgren noted;
”Being permanently excluded was the ultimate rejection for him,” says Faye, mother of 15-year-old Joe.
Faye says since he was excluded from secondary school, Joe’s behaviour has deteriorated, with a devastating knock-on effect for the rest of the family.
A theme is emerging here, that the uncritical reliance of the DfE on advice from very narrow sources, such as the 2017 report by the current adviser on Behaviour Mr Bennett are at best unreliable and at worst actively promoting abusive and possibly illegal activity in schools. A the tip of the iceberg is the approach being promoted by Bennett in his entrepreneurial role as provider of Behaviour Training, borrowed from Mr Lemov which specifies the rigidity which is so damaging to many children in many schools. The worry expressed in the Committee hearing about the injury caused to children by unregulated and unscientifically justified practice is emerging in the harm done to children’s lives, and those of their families and carers and the professionals responsible for their education. It is no accident that Lemov developed his approach in the USA, one of only three countries not to have signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Overall, there has been a failure in leadership from the DfE over many years, haphazardly drawing in strategies designed in contexts outside education to control and manage offenders. For example, restorative justice and ‘zero-tolerance’ (also known as ‘The Broken Window Strategy’ used by police in the USA, where minor offences are severely punished in the vain hope of warning off serious offenders) were invented by police and the judiciary system to control offending and re-offending without much success. Lee and Marlene Canter, also from the USA, invented Assertive Discipline many decades ago and made a huge fortune out of shaming and emotionally manipulating children and we in the UK took it up, uncritically. That is where writing children’s names on the board came from – the power of public shaming, which was outlawed for adults a very long time ago.
Aiming at trying to polish up exclusion as it is currently practiced is deeply mistaken. The changes need to happen at the roots, to give a chance for new practices to become established. Having a look at the effectiveness of the Structured Kindness of Solutions Focused coaching as pastoral support for children in need would be one good use of time.