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What is it to be in schools – competition or cooperation?

20 Apr

Many eons ago, as the education officer for schools in a London local authority, I was given strict instructions not to promote competition among youngsters – especially in sport.  The reason?   It was important to build the self-esteem of all pupils.  Putting pupils in a “lose” situation would deflate them.   The concept of winners and losers was anathema.  All must have prizes.

Zafar Ansari, the Surrey cricketer and Cambridge graduate with a double fist in politics and sociology had decided to retire from the sport at the tender age of 25. He was struggling to cope with the competitive ethos in cricket which he intensely disliked.

Ansari wrote in the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack: “It goes without saying that competition is a foundation of sport: to be competitive is clearly an advantage, providing the mental framework to maximise the chances of success. Yet, as my career progressed, I felt uncomfortable conducting myself in this way. This feeling emerged, in part, from a broader left-wing perspective, which informed my approach to life.”

He was also wary of “a professional culture that treated the uncompromising pursuit of victory as essentially virtuous.” Ansari has now quit professional cricket and is working for Just for Kids, a charity which supports underprivileged children, while studying to become a lawyer.

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Pupil Exclusion: Legal Requirements and Good Practice

28 Aug

I           Introduction

The most daunting and challenging aspect of school governance after that of appointing a headteacher, is dealing with the aftermath of a pupil exclusion by the headteacher.  Governors are exhorted to develop policies where all pupils may thrive.  An implicit requirement is the promotion of inclusion. Youngsters should feel part and parcel of the school community, where they are safe and happy.  Yet, it is open to the headteacher to exclude a pupil that does not fall into line with the school’s behaviour policy.   Theoretically, the concept is anathema to the running of an outstanding school.  In fact, Ofsted inspectors raise quizzical eyebrows whenever they make judgements on schools if pupils are ‘turfed’ out routinely.

Yet, there are some pupils, for a multitude of reasons who make it impossible not only for them to thrive but also their peers.  They are disruptive, aggressive, inattentive and, altogether, unwelcome to the school community.   How often have I heard it said that such-and-such a pupil is like a virus or bacterium to the school-body politic and has no place in education.   Yet, we have a legal (if not moral) responsibility to educate all our children – if the parents of a child so choose to have them educated at school (and not otherwise with home-tutoring).

So how can governors deal with this burning issue without getting themselves burnt? At the outset, the governing body has to establish a pupil behaviour policy.  In an academy or a multi-academy trust (MAT), the trust, per se, will determine who is responsible for constructing such a policy.

A good policy will set out the school’s/academy’s expectations of pupils.  It will describe strategies for promoting good behaviour – especially opportunities for children to learn how to live in amity with one another and adults – and the rewards they may expect.

The policy will describe the measures the school will take to bring them to heel where, despite the best efforts of the staff, pupils misbehave.  It will be a hierarchy of sanctions.  In extremis, pupils could be excluded for fixed-term periods, and after that, permanently.

Statutory guidance from the Department for Education states that permanent exclusion should be used as a last resort, when all other methods for promoting the child’s good behaviour fails. It must be lawful, reasonable and fair. The policy should explicitly state the kinds of behaviour which will result in permanent exclusion, such as peddling drugs – in or outside the school – and bringing a weapon to school.

A school may not discriminate on the basis of protected characteristics such as disability, race and/or gender.  It must give particular attention to vulnerable pupils treating them fairly.    It also states that only the headteacher may exclude, unless, of course, s/he is unwell or the post vacant, in which case, the deputy headteacher or acting headteacher is empowered to exclude.  Continue reading

Character Education: Is it the Holy Grail to Academic Success?

9 Apr

I           Resilience

One of the recent preoccupations of Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has been “character education”.   This is unsurprising, given that Michael Gove, current Justice Secretary and her predecessor, made both, the curriculum and examinations and tests more rigorous causing young people to stress out.  Accordingly, she has been investing time and resources in seeing how children could be made more resilient.

Children in the United Kingdom grow up in a cosseted environment.   Surfaces on which they play must be safe; they are not permitted to go out into the streets to ride their bikes or kick balls in case they are kidnapped and abused by paedophiles or run over by cars.   So outside play is replaced with inside tablets; and I am not talking about pills.   A March 2016 poll revealed that 6-to-11-year-old children spent less time outside than the daily hour allowed to prisoners.

And if they do not know how to look after themselves, children are not developing the character tools they need – such as resilience or buoyancy – to negotiate the hidden dangers on the road of life or to survive failures on the road to success.   They have truly become the “snowflake” generation.  This is why Mrs Morgan is keen to foster resilience and character education.

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Government guidance on managing pupil behaviour yet to be updated

5 Jan

About a year ago, the government withdrew the updated guidance to schools on the management of pupil behaviour. Despite pressure being brought to bear on civil servants, the guidance has yet to be reissued.

Lawyers defending pupils appealing against permanent exclusion argued that more children would be expelled under the revised guidance and threatened legal action against Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State, on the grounds that the changes had been introduced without consultation.

Under the guidance of 2012, which is still extant, headteachers could exclude children only as a last resort.  It states that a headteacher can exclude a child permanently only if allowing her/him to remain at school would seriously harm the education or welfare of others.  The now withdrawn guidance lowered the threshold from “seriously harmful” to “detrimental”. Continue reading

Teacher and columnist appointed Behaviour Supremo

25 Aug

In mid-June 2015, Mr Tom Bennett, a former nightclub bouncer, who retrained to become a teacher and is teaching at a secondary school in East London, was appointed by Mrs Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education, to carry out a study of pupil behaviour and advise the nation on how teachers could be “better prepared to deal with the realities of the classroom”.  He has been asked to form a working party to assist him in this task.

Mr Bennett plans to work with people who have substantial experience of handling poor behaviour in schools, i.e. teachers.  Writing in The Times Educational Supplement, he said: “Together, we hope to come up with recommendations that can offer new and old teachers the tools they need to do what they were trained to do.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thrilled to be doing this.  Just don’t call me ‘Tsar’, for God’s sake.”

Mr Bennett intends to draw up plans to help staff members deal with “low-level disruption”, a beta noire of the teaching profession and something onto which Ofsted inspectors constantly latch.  He will lead a group created by the Department for Education to develop better training for teachers to tackle pupil misbehaviour.

Teachers are turning in increasing numbers to the tips that he provides on the internet, to deal with difficult school situations.

Mr Bennett is a Teacher Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and the director of ReserachED. Since 2008, he has been writing for the TES and has written four books on teacher-training, behaviour management and educational research.