Frontlines – Exclusion of disruptive pupils

Despite a heated discussion with a friend about how completely unrealistic and unhelpful The Unteachables is, I still maintain that there is much to be learned from the series of programmes screened on Channel 4.

Obviously the children have been aware of the cameras. By necessity we have been shown only a small amount of the footage, and that very deliberately chosen and edited. The two week “camp” could never effectively replicate a school environment, and indeed that isn’t the intention.

Schools do not exclude children lightly. Despite a continuing rise in permanent exclusions and despite what we see of their behaviour, at least some of the children featured are still in mainstream school.

If disruptive students remain in class, the education of their peers, as well as themselves, must suffer. They need to be somewhere else. Where this somewhere else is remains a matter of debate.

Disruptive behaviour is not just being a teenager writ large. It develops for several reasons and so there is probably not one answer. The programmes have treated us to a glimpse of family life. I guess that some of these children have huge social and emotional issues to deal with before they are able to properly access education. For others their disaffection has come about as a response to difficulties in learning. Whatever the root cause there must be questions as to the wisdom of insisting they attend regular lessons on a full timetable.

Teachers deserve medals. They also deserve more training in dealing with disruptive behaviour and more classroom support. Part of my heated discussion was about whether being flexible with lessons is a sensible response to an unexpected situation or rather a surrender of power to the students.

Children do not go to bed one day as angels and wake up the next as monsters. As professionals within social care we presumably believe that change is possible and the earlier we can get in there the easier and more long lasting it will be.

These particular students deserve a proper chance. More support specialists engaged in early identification are needed, fully assessing their needs and working with their families to promote and support their education chances.

Helen Bonnick is a supervisor of school-home support workers and a social worker

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