Don't pick on the bad apples

22nd April 2005 at 01:00
The media is full of pupils behaving badly at the moment. We are presented with images of struggling teachers and violent children and it is the teachers and the "good" kids who seem to demand our sympathy. The accepted solution appears to be exclusion. PRUs (pupil referral units) have proliferated and more are on the way. There is a tacit acceptance that bad apples must be removed before the barrel is spoiled.

I do not believe that the picture is as simple as this. Another agenda underpins the behaviour agenda. It is the Raising Standards At Any Costs agenda. Schools, because of the league tables, and the Government, to show its policies were indeed successful, are desperate to raise standards.

Removing low-achieving children is one way that schools can improve their results.

Having worked as a mainstream support teacher for some years, I am concerned about the number of children with special needs who have been excluded from their secondary schools. In one under-subscribed, struggling comprehensive I noticed how many low-achieving students we gained who had been excluded by our neighbouring high-achieving comp. Many of these children required my support and their arrival skewed our intake profile.

They made a difficult school very difficult indeed.

Later, as a special needs co-ordinator, I moved to a high-achieving technology college and was powerless to prevent the removal of many on my special-needs register. One vocational class I set up for those with a variety of learning difficulties lost about half its original number in three years. Some went before Sats, the rest before GCSEs. And we all know that the legally excluded have only ever been the tip of the iceberg. Heads all over the country have been advising parents to move their child to another school before the next incident (which would definitely result in his exclusion) for years.

The Government remains keen on its academy programme. Those that are up and running in the North-east have achieved high levels of exclusions already.

One presumes the new schools will be encouraged to do the same. Where will all those excluded children with reading difficulties and attention-deficit problems go? To the remaining bog-standards or the new PRUs?

I note that while present practice endorses exclusion, the buzz word is inclusion.

Dawn Savage is a head of department in a north-east comprehensive.Leader with a gripe? Write us a 400-word Sounding Off and get paid as you grumble.

Send it to susan.young@tes.co.uk.

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