Teachers have reacted with outrage after a group campaigning against exclusions said pupils guilty of sexual violence should not be removed from school.
The group, No More Exclusions, was founded by a London secondary teacher and describes itself as an "abolitionist grassroots coalition movement in education focused on racial justice, abolishing exclusions and free quality, inclusive education for all". It told Tes it has over 150 members.
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In a guidance document, No More Exclusions has written: "Sexual violence is a serious issue. However, punishing people who have caused harm is not shown to actually change their behaviour."
It added: "By creating a culture of consent, not just among students but also between students to staff, we both allow young people to have their agency and also make them less likely to want to transgress someone’s else’s boundaries, encouraging people to respect each other and hold themselves to account.
School exclusions for sexual violence
"By contrast, in environments in which their consent is constantly violated, young people might wonder: “Why should I care about someone else’s boundaries if mine are always being transgressed?”
Educators on social media have criticised the guidance, saying it appears to excuse pupils who commit sexual assault.
Teacher Caroline Keep said that, as a survivor of abuse, she found the guidance "totally distasteful" and "unacceptable advice" for schools.
And the government's lead behaviour adviser, Tom Bennett, said: "This is horrific. I rarely say this, but people who hold these views shouldn’t be allowed to have responsibility for children’s institutions."
One head of English, Nikki Carlin, said the guidance was "mad" and would mean pupils and teachers accepting situations that made them uncomfortable. Others said it reinforced "rape culture" within schools.
Some teachers pointed out that, in refusing to exclude pupils who committed sexual assault, victims of abuse would be in danger of self-excluding through refusing to attend school.
I've taught girls who have been sexually assaulted and then had to share a class with their attackers.— Bigkid (@Bigkid4) October 26, 2020
One became a school refuser, one left within 2 months, one spent almost every minute she wasn't in a lesson sitting in my room crying.
No More Exclusions told Tes it has never said sexual assault "survivors" should share classroom space with perpetrators.
Karam Bales, a member of the NEU National Executive, referred critics of the policy to a thread from a Twitter user describing themselves as a "teacher looking for radical possibilities in and beyond the classroom".
The thread states that the idea behind the guidance is that "everyone takes responsibility for their actions, and the community collectively builds responses to sexual violence".
[CW sexual assault]— tom (@tussarit) October 26, 2020
The idea is that rather than the fear of punishment by a teachers/school being the reason why people dont sexually assault someone, everyone takes responsibility for their actions, and the community collectively builds responses to sexual violence.
But Sam Vimes, a prison manager who posted the original tweet drawing attention to the guidance, responded: "Are you saying that this approach will prevent sexual assault in schools? What's the evidence base for this?"
The group's website was down yesterday, with a message saying the account had been temporarily suspended. No More Exclusions spokesperson Zahra Bei told Tes that this was due to a virus, which "appears to have been the result of a targeted attack".
In a statement, No More Exclusions said: "We stand against all forms of violence, including sexual violence, and believe in a model where the victim of violence can experience meaningful justice and support.
"We believe in an abolitionist approach that aims to create a society free of violence. That means ensuring tackling the root causes of patriarchy and violent behaviour in a systemic way. With this approach, we can focus on the reduction of violence in our schools and in society."
Asked by Tes directly whether No More Exclusions disagreed with excluding pupils who commit sexual violence, the group said its name made its stance clear.
"As we have said, we do not believe exclusion is a solution suitable for resolving any kind of harm," it said, adding: "We believe in no more exclusions; we seek to abolish exclusions. This has always been clear since our founding."
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “No child should ever feel afraid of coming to school and being among their classmates. That’s why this Government will always back headteachers to exclude pupils whose presence in the classroom makes it impossible for their peers to learn and thrive.
“Exclusions are an essential tool that can help make sure classrooms remain calm and disciplined places that bring out the best in every pupil.”