Alternatives to despair

4th May 2001 at 01:00
Children may be excluded from school but not from education. The number of exclusions should be reduced while ensuring that classrooms are not disrupted by the activities of a minority. These are the principles that govern the Executive's approach to indiscipline, which as union conferences show is the most pressing issue for many teachers. But putting the principles into practice is, as always, the tricky bit. Even politicians admit there are no easy answers.

The Executive has set itself the target of reducing exclusions by a third and hopes to find ideas from a study of initiatives funded in 18 local authorities. Seeking to pinpoint and publicise examples where discipline is well maintained and unruly pupils are deterred from misbehaving or kept within some productive form of education was not going to be a search for a panacea. There is no simple pattern to indiscipline and no solution waiting to e discovered. But teachers will find the descriptions of projects in Alternatives to School Exclusion more rewarding reading than many reports.

The pursuit of inclusivity and the reduction of exclusions sound incompatible, especially since inclusivity is presumed to assure opportunity for learning, which disruptive pupils impede. The most productive approach involves removing problem pupils from the classroom while keeping them in a school framework. Extra attention to behavioural problems and to associated learning difficulties allows many to return to mainstream classes. Exclusion in that sense does not create macho models or martyrs. Nor does it further depress the life chances of those with serious problems by writing them out of the education script. The story from Seattle (page 20) of a mother paid more than pound;100,000 to keep her violent son out of school is the "solution" of despair.

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