Exclusions… is this the real issue?

Earlier this year I saw a plea on twitter where someone asked “Does anyone teach statistics?”

My first thought was “don’t we all?” Initially, I had a wry smile and congratulated myself on my wittiness, but then it felt more profound. As individuals, of course, we teach the faces in front of us, but, the bigger picture, the system, it just boils down to stats, how sad is that?

I recently had an unrelated argument where I said “I don’t want to think about the statistics, they’re irrelevant to me” for which I was criticised and reminded of my trade. But, fundamentally, it’s true. We look at cohorts, patterns, national averages, benchmarks and grades and they are beheld as the beacon of reason. But they are not what really matters, we are in this trade to serve our students, not the numbers, not the powers that be, not OFSTED.

I’m not devaluing statistics, of course not, they serve a huge purpose and provide some perspective on the hugely complex world of education. But we’re more than that.

So I come to my point on exclusions:

exclusions

A quick google search for synonyms is entirely negative, of course it is, exclusion, by its very nature, is a negative word. Certainly, to be excluded from a school has a huge stigma, both for the student and the school, and stigma are universally damaging. Here lies my argument. Do exclusions have to be negative? Or, could we view it through an alternative lens? Maybe, if we changed our narrative, we could change the outcomes for some of our most vulnerable students.

Let’s compare the education system with another huge system: Healthcare. Now I know that comparisons between education and medicine have been heavily criticised, but this analogy stands strong for me.

Generally speaking, most of us find ourselves attending our GP or A&E as our first point of contact. For the most part, our needs are served well by these highly skilled, educated professionals, who have the huge task of treating a myriad of conditions, and they do a brilliant job: we invest a lot on our health system, and as such we are rewarded with longevity of life.

Out healthcare system is internationally renowned, lauded as best practice, and is effective. We have a first point of contact, our GP or A&E doctor, who work within their remit and when needs are greater than their expertise, they refer to a specialist. By and large, this works brilliantly.

Now I think we can all agree that being under the care of a specialist is common sense. Your needs are complex, let the person who knows the most about those set of needs take care of them, as the likelihood is, your care will be fit for purpose, more effective and more efficient.

Further still, do we view our lovely 11 year olds as being excluded from primary school when they transition to secondary school? Of course not! We accept that primary schools have done a fantastic job with them up to that point, but secondary schools, are best equipped to deal with the needs of an adolescent. They have their subject specialists and slightly different systems to cope with their need. On the whole this works, and no one is in uproar about children leaving primary school to start their new journey at secondary school.

I appreciate this analogy might not be perfect, but I think if we change our perspective, instead of being outraged by exclusion rates, seeing it as a school “giving up” on that student and look at it as a stage in a process to give that student access to the highest quality care, from those who are truly experts: The best places to give them the best possible chance at a successful future. It’s not alternative provision but appropriate provision.

Change the histrionics of impersonal statistics on exclusion rates, that provide click bait, to focus on the individual and their support post exclusion (or referral?). Perhaps if we focus on developing a world renowned appropriate provision system, with the right funding, support and less stigma, we might stand a chance of changing the life chances of these young people.

So, instead of berating schools for excluding, scolding head teachers and principals for making one of the toughest decisions of their careers or shaming academy chains, why not use this energy to bring about change in the provision for our most vulnerable children, in the setting most specialised for them. Better funding, better training, and more provision in each area.

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