There is a scandal in the making, one that flies in the face of the State’s stated aim to ‘put children first’. Children already suffering debilitating attachment issues will be further isolated. Those on the autistic spectrum will be marginalised and pupils already suffering from post traumatic stress will be put under needless extra pressure. Like Macarthyism in 1950’s America it is nothing short of a witchhunt, corralling all the ‘naughty’ children and marginalising them.
Information has come to light showing plans are afoot to radically change the ‘alternative provision’ for pupils that have difficulties with mainstream education. The concept has value but there are those who are worried that this plan is just a cynical ploy to offload ‘difficult’ pupils in order to massage performance statistics; for attendance, punctuality and of course examination results, and to take the credit for doing so.
On Jersey, external suspensions have increased by 20% in the last five years and although our schools don’t expel pupils, there is a referral process that does much the same job. Temporary exclusions in the secondary sector are 86% higher than at primary level. School attendance (93.5%) is lower than that in England (95.4%). Persistent absence is much higher. Targeted children vote with their feet.
La Sante is the school where the most disaffected pupils are referred to out of mainstream. Numbers at La Sante are fixed at 22 children but the proposal is to increase referrals fourfold. La Sante cannot offer the same quality of education as mainstream nor do staff have enough expertise to deal with the wide variety of needs presented by the pupils that are sent there. Attendance at La Sante is very low. Targeted children vote with their feet.
There are thresholds of tolerance which modern schooling has sought to benchmark. The ‘ready to learn scheme’ has seen improvements in the behaviour data of schools but although punitive sanctions work for some, there are those for whom they are ineffective. When you have been abused most of your life, sanctions are little deterrent. Draconian approaches to tackling errant behaviour set such pupils up for failure. They cannot to be bullied into complying. If you shout they will shout louder. All the school has to do is to wait, follow procedures and let the child hang themself. It is entrapment. The ‘system’ is antagonistic to their needs.
Exclusion as a sanction sends a message to the child that they are not welcome and this feeds their ingrained belief that the world is against them, reinforcing barriers to integration that they carry on into adult life. It stigmatises them. Many of these children possess specific learning difficulties that often go untreated.
As it stands, the plan is an abdication of responsibility and typical of the ‘out of sight out of mind’ approach to dealing with pupils with social, emotional and mental health issues. This attitude is endemic and goes to the very heart of our education system. The Children’s Minister and the Children’s Commissioner have their work cut out trying to change such fixed mindsets. The silo mentality persists.
Sacrificing the few for the sake of the many does not put children first. It is stated in the correspondence that these children cannot cope with mainstream education. The reality is the other way around. The inclusive structure established in our secondary schools following the Kathy Bull report has been dismantled with nothing to replace it, yet the funding is still in place.
Talk is of improving social mobility but setting a child up to fail generally works in the opposite direction. As we have seen in England, excluded pupils are prey to more sinister forces. Anti-social behaviour and knife crime tragedies have their roots in school rejection. Even before they transgress, these children are viewed as criminals and not the victims that they really are.
There are children with social, emotional and mental health issues for whom mainstream cannot easily meet their needs. Those numbers are very small and for most of those the need is temporary. Referral out of a school should take a holistic view of the child’s needs and should be time bonded, allowing the child full or part time access over the duration of any referral.
The answer to resolving issues caused by pupils that display challenging behaviour does not have to be an ‘us or them’ situation. We have a group of senior ‘professionals’ paid handsomely to resolve complex issues like this. Offloading is too easy. The more difficult task is to devise strategies that provide equality of opportunity for all children. It can be achieved with more initiative, more training, more commitment and more compassion.
Adapted from an article the J.E.P 25/04/19