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Should we all be doing more to prevent school exclusion?

28th November 2018

Yesterday was a sad day – another point was scored by school exclusion. A 10-year-old with autism was permanently excluded from his primary school because the Headteacher and Governors failed. Nowhere in the Headteacher’s standards does it support the level of risk aversion, lack of creativity and willingness to simply give up, that many schools are displaying across the UK. Where are the bold and innovative senior leaders that pursue the right to education for all children within their local communities?

The more I reflect on our primary education system the more startled I am by the reasons given to exclude a child.

It seems that the essential communication skills needed to enable children to manage their anxieties and their behaviours, are not being taught or developed in schools, yet are often the underlying cause of exclusions. The resounding effect of exclusion is low self-esteem, a reinforcement of behaviours that enable a child to avoid school, increased family stress impacting on their resilience and decision making and a society in which others observe that it is acceptable to simply hide issues by removing them.

The 10-year-old excluded yesterday was unable to manage a change in the timetable that was a huge disappointment for all the children in that class. “Swimming has been cancelled and we are going to do maths instead”. Though I accept maths might have been preferable to some, I can guarantee that the majority of the class were unable to engage at their normal attainment levels in the maths lesson subsequently delivered. This 10-year-old was unable to communicate his distress with apathy or a groan of dismay; instead he displayed behaviours perceived to challenge.

Over the last 8 weeks this pupil has made demonstrable progress in his ability to communicate when upset, worried or angry, with a substantial decrease in problem behaviour and therefore an increased ability to engage with learning. This was achieved through targeted intervention with him and his Teaching Assistant. Unfortunately, the announcement of a change in timetable from the Class Teacher did not appear to take into account how this would make any of the children feel, let alone this 10-year-old; the delivery of this news provoked the incident.

Provocation is a mitigating factor when making the decision to exclude. As educators, with children at the heart of everything we say and do, we are responsible and accountable for our actions. How can a 10-year-old be held responsible for the way in which a teacher delivers news? The behaviour he displayed was more controlled than ever before, nothing was thrown at anyone – this was progress, this was learning – but this was overlooked and dismissed. Exclusion teaches us nothing – the staff team haven’t learned how to approach the situation differently; his peers have learned nothing from those they should be looking up to.

There are solutions; they depend on the receptivity of the Headteacher and Governors. As gate keepers to education, I invite you to choose the right keys, be proud to include and unlock the possibilities for all children.

Tracie Linehan
CEO of BeyondAutism

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