The wrong behaviour needs the right sanctions

19th August 2011 at 01:00

Your piece analysing the impact of, and trends in, exclusions was really welcome ("Never let you go: the plan to take 'ex' out of excluded", 5 August). I believe that Michael Gove's policy in which schools retain financial and moral responsibility for the children they exclude is forward-thinking and right-minded.

Some heads grudgingly accept this stance and others reject it absolutely. But all schools and all heads have to rethink their philosophy or begin to challenge its precepts. An attitude to secondary students in particular persists, whereby "if you want to be part of our wonderful school, you must follow our rules". For individual teachers, there is the notion that a child has misbehaved in their class so he (usually) must "pay" for his actions.

But this only plays to the weakest link in the school and flies in the face of behavioural and educational psychology, common sense and even the much-aired "supernanny" approach to managing toddlers.

Part of a student's "universal entitlement" - set out by US educational psychologist Lee Canter - is to be taught how to behave alongside how to add up, read and so on. The idea that even teenagers have learned all the mores of society's codes for right and wrong is hopelessly naive. It falls to schools to teach them.

Is permanent exclusion part of that learning? I would argue not. It leads to alienation, isolation, reinforcement that society has rejected, not listened, and that anti-social behaviour pays when it comes to getting adults' attention.

It doesn't mean that any behaviour is acceptable and should have no sanction - the usual retort of exclusion apologists. But students often regard isolation within school as a far more real punishment. If the offence involves assault, the criminal justice system should be invoked.

However, the real answer to changing behaviour, not isolating it, is therapy, positive recognition and appropriately engaging learning.

I am executive head of a secondary for boys excluded from at least two other schools. The school was in special measures, physically restraining students and excluding them in the hundreds. One year later, the school is out of special measures and restraint is no longer used. Our aim is for zero exclusions; we are in single figures this year.

These boys have seriously dysfunctional behaviours, but a focus on personalised learning, exam accreditation, engaging learning, therapy and positive recognition has had a far greater effect than exclusion ever would.

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