Exclusion is a way to raise the alarm

29th September 2006 at 01:00
he flurry of activity around the implementation of the Additional Support for Learning Act would seem to indicate that parents and their advocates are ahead of our game. Since nothing is quite as motivating as the thought of legal action, I have taken time to digest our authority's guidelines on ASL and our strategy for inclusion, as well as the recent paper from Learning and Teaching Scotland, Focusing on Inclusion.

Altruistic claims for inclusion are common to all of them, but so too is use of the word which is now intrinsic to the whole concept - "challenge".

I was not surprised to read that "achieving inclusion will be a challenge", or that "provision in the mainstream setting is a challenge for teachers with pupils whose needs are particular", or, indeed, that "the challenge for each establishment is in establishing an ethos in which all learners are valued".

We in schools know all there is to know about challenge. When a child repeatedly kicks off in class, the first challenge for a teacher can be in getting promoted staff past the platitudes stage and persuaded that something in the way of practical support is needed before stress levels go through the roof.

Behaviour support plans are just pieces of paper unless they are backed-up with enough input as often as it is needed from another useful pair of hands. This is unlikely to come from employment of a part-time, untrained, semi-literate Josephine Bloggs, whose idea of support amounts to giving the child the answers to his sums and who backs away from any situation that begins to look nasty.

The next challenge is when the school attempts to enlist the help of other agencies and services, which are never quite within swift or easy reach.

Other than the drastic step of referral to the Reporter to the children's panel or to social work, no moves can be made without the consent and cooperation of parents. We recently witnessed a parent of a nine-year old asking him for his view on the need to refer him to child and family mental health. He gave it the thumbs-down.

Even after weeks of supporting, coaxing, cajoling and enduring beyond the pale, the hard-won agreement of parents can come to nothing, when a single missed appointment with someone like a clinical psychologist is enough to close a file.

Our greatest challenge could become the exclusion of pupils, as pressures are increasingly applied from above to keep them in school at all costs.

The rights of other pupils to be educated in an environment free from fear of assault and the safety and welfare of staff are apparently becoming secondary issues.

I accept that exclusion from school is now viewed as politically incorrect, as it is the antithesis of the drive for social inclusion. However, it does annoy me when those who will never have to deal with ghastly problems on a daily basis arising from challenging behaviour agree that school is a place for everyone, "not just the best behaved". Statistics relating to pupils' violence and aggression could be the starting point for debate on that kind of statement.

Schools try to keep children in the system for as long as possible through whatever means are at our disposal, but we win few Brownie points and next to no thanks for our efforts to do so.

In my experience, a short, sharp exclusion before the crisis stage makes people sit up and take notice. Suddenly there is recognition that a problem exists, other professionals want to work with us to find a solution and money can be found to help teachers at the sharp end.

Until we have a fully-fledged multi-agency approach to supporting needy children at a much earlier stage in their lives, exclusion must continue to be one of the ways in which schools can raise the alarm.

Joan Fenton is head of Dyce primary in Aberdeen

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