Exclude this syndrome

19th April 1996 at 01:00
Steve Devrell calls for action on disruptive pupils. Twenty years ago when I started teaching there were unruly children in classrooms. Now the unruly have become the disruptive, wreaking the kind of havoc that was unheard of in my early experience.

The teaching profession has witnessed the development of these kind of children but they have largely been hidden from the public eye. The recent High Court case which compensated a Coventry teacher for being assaulted by a ten-year-old caused an outcry but the incident itself did not surprise us all.

Plenty of theories are touted for the deterioration in the conduct of young people and the solutions offered are just as varied. The "whip 'em, flog 'em " brigade and the "tender loving care" fraternity all have their opinions, but what to do in practice still remains a big question.

Enter now the educational psychologist. Once they looked at bed wetters and part-time bullies, now they have real problems on their hands. They surely must identify causes, but seem unable, perhaps through social politeness, to point to where the behaviour stems from.

Instead they suggest a Syndrome. Like it or not, we live in a "Syndrome Society". When parents find out that their child is disruptive, they generally try to establish two things. First, that they are not personally to blame for their child's behaviour and second that there is a handy diagnosis.

Syndromes provide a sympathy factor that makes exclusion from "mainstream" education more difficult. But that is only one of many factors that currently exists to prevent children from being excluded. The detailed and lengthy paperwork required is another major stumbling block; parents' right to appeal also makes heads think twice about taking action.

If indeed the child is deemed to be too disruptive and exclusion is made permanent, parents often react with a period of uncomfortable mud slinging at the school. And as we all know from our study of cliches, some mud often sticks.

Another factor is the "give them one last chance" element in the staffroom. As human beings we seem to enjoy exercising power over danger. Witness those infatuated by the convicted murderer, or the owner of a dangerous dog who knows that his animal is capable of savaging anyone but himself. In a more moderate form, there are teachers who wish to prove the other staff wrong by being successful with the deviant child.

Finally, now that schools are autonomous, with budgets that are reliant on keeping pupil numbers up, many heads are far less willing to exclude children.

But what is perhaps even more significant is that the salaries of heads and deputies are so directly affected by the number of children in the schools.

The head is therefore in a position to influence decisions of exclusion from the point of view of salary and pension rights. No wonder some encourage staff to endure serious disruption; it has a direct bearing on their financial future. The classroom teacher, for the most part, receives no such reward.

The problems surrounding disruptive children urgently need to be addressed. Exclusions should be made easier and places to send excluded children to should become more readily available. Not an easy objective, but we could start by addressing some of the anomalies outlined here.

Steve Devrell is a primary teacher from Solihull

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