When tolerance is not an option

2nd July 2004 at 01:00
How far do we have to go to keep within our schools disruptive pupils - violent, foul-mouthed or simply so far down the path of boredom and despair that their sole need is to lash out at anything that smacks of conventionality?

What is the formula that determines the ratio of caring for the troublesome and troubled minority to caring for the majority of the hardworking and decent majority? When do the rights of the bully and the troublemaker override the duty that we as governors have to provide a safe, comfortable and stimulating environment to the rest? It's an awful, and awesome responsibility, and one that I don't wear easily as a governor. In fact I've shirked the real burden by avoiding appointment to the discipline committee.

I'm trying to be dispassionate here. I'm trying to look at this issue from the point of view of teachers and pupils and of parents who are concerned for the wellbeing of their offspring. At the same time I'm trying to look at the problem from the perspective of the disruptive child, who in many cases really is crying for help. But should the needs of the few dictate the law for the many?

I believe in a simple moral imperative that we are all redeemable, given time, support and care. In an ideal world, where time, patience, resource and love were in plentiful supply there would be no justification for writing off the troublemakers.

Pragmatically however, the problem we face is that all of the essential elements to help the disruptive child are severely limited and time-bound.

I am therefore reluctantly drawn to the conclusion that it is better for governing bodies to be unwavering absolutists in the application of permanent exclusion of pupils whose behaviour threatens the physical or psychological well-being of other pupils and teachers. Just as there are actions whereby you or I may be dismissed instantly from our occupations, so too for pupils.

Michael-Joseph Mc-Dade is a governor of a boys' secondary school in the North-east

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