When exclusion is the only option

18th October 1996 at 01:00
I have been following the current exchanges of opinion on school exclusions with some dismay.

As a former education social worker, I was frustrated when disaffected pupils on whom I had spent a lot of time and effort returned to school and were then sometimes excluded for some act of rebellion. If permanently excluded, I had the responsibility of, as it were, hawking the pupil round to try to sell him or her to another school, with all the implications of this process for the self-image of the pupil.

As a returner to comprehensive school teaching, I then became frustrated at the amount of havoc disaffected pupils could wreak on the learning of the majority in my lessons. My experience "on the other side", and the insights that gave me, seemed to be of no help in dealing with a child's behavioural difficulties in the classrooms.

The fact that I often understood the situation from the child's point of view only made me feel more guilty in having to choose actions in the short-term which were directed at protecting the group from the disruption of the individual, and sometimes inhibited me from taking those actions soon enough.

When individual teachers or the school collectively feel they have exhausted all their options in trying to help pupils with extremely difficult behaviour, there seems to be too little available support to call on beyond the school's own resources. Educational psychologists and education social workers do valuable work but they too feel overstretched and under-resourced.

There is nothing to be gained by each of the various interested parties blaming the others. We need to work together to identify how the system in which we are all implicated is failing children with severe problems in school.

In the meantime, perhaps we have to acknowledge that occasionally with some pupils schools feel they have exhausted their available options, and, reluctantly, decide on exclusion.

DIANA WILSON

Education researcher Huddersfield

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