Excluded pupils are tomorrow's citizens

4th October 1996 at 01:00
The lobbying for home-school behaviour contracts (TES, September 13), the reinstatement of indefinite exclusion, and the moral panic about "unteachable" children raise some great concerns.

Articles 17, 19 and 28 of the United Nations' Convention on Children's Rights, and Section 36 of the Education Act 1944 underpin every child's right to education.

If a child's parents do not sign a behaviour contract and the school chooses not to admit the child - which agency will take responsibility for ensuring that the child's rights are met?

If a headteacher indefinitely excludes a child whose behaviour has become a problem for the school, which agency will ensure that the child receives their entitlement to an education and does not become "invisible"? If a child is labelled "unteachable", is this not a revealing label for the experiences of high-costhigh-risk consumers in education's quasi-market?

What is happening within our education system?

Has it really reached the point where we, as professional educators, are not prepared to allow families and children whose behaviour is a problem for us, to play our game if they are unable or unwilling to play by our rules? Perhaps those policy-makers and colleagues advocating this approach might then wish to go on to lobby the Government to abolish compulsory education - after all, if education were to become optional then we'd only have to educate the children of middle-class professionals - people "just like us". If parents don't sign a behaviour contract, if someone doesn't monitor indefinitely excluded children, if someone doesn't do something about that "unteachable" child - why should we feel any moral obligation or responsibility?

As professionals in education surely we have a moral obligation to all children, all of whom are future citizens of our society? It may be comforting to abrogate moral responsibility by invoking Someone Else's Problem, but where does that leave the child, and our society, in 20 years' time? The civic exclusion of "Others" (people "not like us") in 1930s Germany was a first step toward the Holocaust; where does the path lead if we restrict education to a self-chosen few - the creation of an illiterate underclass, and ghettoes of marginalised groups? Such a policy in our education system can only exacerbate the growing divisions in our society - education should be a resource for healing the cracks in society, not rubbing salt in the wounds.

Perhaps, as professionals we need to take up once more a moral responsibility for our actions. At the root of this responsibility is a child who has a right to an education, and - if he or she is behaving in a way that is a problem for us - asking ourselves; what can I do about it, who do I need to talk to about this piece of behaviour, who else do I need to involve in supporting this child?

In education, children must once again be construed as future citizens, not Someone Else's Problem.


Education social work manager



West Yorkshire

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