Exclusion, whether fixed-term or permanent, is a school’s final resort for dealing with a pupil whose behaviour does not improve as a result of other punishments. These are the naughtiest of pupils, the most disruptive or rebellious young people who refuse to conform to even the most basic standards of respect for their peers, teachers or school property. They may have been caught fighting, swearing, smoking, taking drugs or stealing or a combination of the above. They are the naughty children that schools exclude.
How could you argue with that? These young people have clearly behaved in a way which is unacceptable to society. However, is it really the best course of action to pass the buck, and exclude them from mainstream schooling? By throwing them into a pupil referral unit (PRU) or some other provision where only 1% will get five good GCSEs we do little to enhance their future prospects and chances of meaningful employment. What do we want them to become? Deranged criminals or unemployable benefit scroungers? Do we even care what they become as long as they don’t live next door to us in the future? Perhaps we should. If we seriously believe that these pupils were born ‘bad’ then maybe it is us that have the problem and not them.
The reality is we are the adults and we control the society into which children are born and raised. No serious person in the 21st century believes that this many children (if any at all) are born ‘bad’, destined to get in trouble by virtue of their genes, or something else. The logical conclusion of this is an unsettling condemnation of the way in which we bring them up, that too often helps to create these problems. This may not always be our fault; I do not wish to argue that we should all feel as though we have personally ruined the lives of children who grow up behaving badly. However, I suggest that actually we can help to do something about these children.
If punishments for misdemeanours were complemented (or even replaced) by appropriate interventions, including counselling and other emotional wellbeing or mental health services, restorative justice where relevant and parental support where required then would this not be an improvement over our current system? What’s more, the cost need not be prohibitive and we would certainly reap the rewards in savings over the long term as these children are less likely to be excluded, more likely to do well in school and consequently more likely to become the shopkeeper, teacher, apprentice or doctor that our country needs rather than another lifetime of failure that we could have done something to prevent. I believe that these children probably need our help, and we all stand to benefit. What do you think?