ARGUMENTS in the High Court this week about whether teachers can collectively refuse to teach a disruptive child may raise fundamental issues of law and principle. But in practice they are the wrong questions which are now having to be addressed in the wrong place at the wrong time, because the education service as a whole has failed to answer the right ones.
The fundamental issue is not who should have the right to eject such a child from a class or school but what needs to be done to provide the necessary care, counselling and control to avoid matters deteriorating to that intolerable position in the first place. Teachers, and indeed the parents, of troubled or troublesome youths need professional support, not a forced return to a situation that has already broken down for lack of it.
Prevention of most exclusions must be possible. Other countries manage without it at all and even within these islands there are education authorities and whole regions where the incidence is significantly lower than in other, equally challenging, areas. Why is the expulsion ratein Northern Ireland a tenth of England's? How is Newham able to manage an inclusion rate of over 98 per cent of statemented children and yet keep exclusions far below many other authorities?
There are moves in the right direction. Mentors for children at risk were proposed for the Excellence in Cities programme and 1,000 in-school units are being provided. A Home Office experiment recently found social workers attached to schools significantly reduced not only exclusions but truancy and stress on teachers. But in too many cases, staff are still expected to cope unaided with pupil anger, disruption, and sometimes violence.
In the TES survey published in January, two out of three teachers questioned said pupil behaviour had got worse in the past four years. One in four reported being threatened by a pupil in the past year. One in 10 had actually been assaulted; a level of risk from which, if we are going to be legalistic, employees probably have a right to expect an employer to protect them. Yet how many education authorities even record such incidents?