I was unsurprised this evening by newspapers reporting that students at a secondary in the Southwest have been sent home for turning up with the wrong stationery. It happens at this time of year. One student was allegedly placed in seclusion for having a ruler 10cm short of the school's stated requirements.
Now, I'm all for instilling in young people the need to bring the proper equipment to lessons – it's a hoary old adage, but students won't get away with forgetting their kit once they're in the world of work. It's important to send the message that organisation is essential to surviving as a functioning adult. No issue there.
Heck, working in schools across Australia, Europe and the UK, I've found that ten minutes in my company at recess or lunchtime often works wonders in jogging the memory and producing the goods.
I'm also in favour of sending students home if they've turned up wearing incorrect uniform. Once again, it's preparation for the workplace. You have to get it right, early. There needs to be a standard set.
However, when it comes to sending a student home for the day or, worse yet, putting them in seclusion for forgetting something as small as an item of stationery, we are in danger of sending some potentially damaging signals, both to the student and the community in general.
Of course, each school has their own understanding of what tools such as seclusion and exclusion looks like. My understanding, however, based on experience and discussion with other professionals, is that seclusion and exclusion is the province of those students who are either repeatedly or volubly disrupting the learning of others or posing a threat to their wellbeing.
Whichever way I look at it, I don't see how such a serious step could possibly be argued as a proportionate response to getting an item of stationery wrong.
Throwing the kitchen sink at a student turning up with the wrong sort of ruler does nothing more than say: "There's nothing more important than stuff". It removes them from their learning and casts their teachers as inflexible and uncaring. It further disengages the disengaged and gives people yet another thing to rail against.
Those defending the decision may pass it off as "tough love", but it raises a very important and present question – if you're taking a kid out of school over the wrong ruler, how will you send the right message when really serious disruption of the learning environment occurs?
Have a couple of spare rulers, pens, whatever in reserve and make the students come back for a chat about having the right gear. A lot less angst all round and it won't make the papers, guaranteed.