At the chalkface: Detrimental behaviour

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I can still recall those agents of infant chaos, Dave Mania or Decibelle Trauma at full throttle. “Serious harm”? They could shred a lesson at a stroke. Nearly mine once. I took to the pills. They were forcefields of disorder, forest fires of disobedience

The number of school expulsions has fallen in the last decade. Well, we can’t have that. Time for a new wheeze, which makes it easier to expel more of the blighters. Some sneaky “new guidance”, whereby your more naughty/less happy inmates can be more easily binned, excised, excommunicated, permanently excluded, if their behaviour causes “serious harm” or is merely “detrimental” to the class. This will facilitate more focus on “teaching and inspiring our next generation”, says charismatic Nicky “Gove-Lite” Morgan.

Well, rather. “Serious harm” is seriously wrong. I can still recall those agents of infant chaos, Dave Mania or Decibelle Trauma at full throttle. “Serious harm”? They could shred a lesson at a stroke. Nearly mine once. I took to the pills. They were forcefields of disorder, forest fires of disobedience. Expulsion? It was not enough. I wanted medieval measures to be visited on their persons – stocks or incarceration in a terrifically illiberal loony bin. 

Then I came to my senses and sent them to seek the solace of Special Needs, therapists, Inclusion and Pupil Referral Units. They often worked. 

They’re often cut these days. 

Worse. This new guidance wants to lower the thresholds for expulsion. Merely “detrimental behaviour” can get you banished. The adjective is treacherously vague and could be a catch-all for any common frolics, tiny transgressions. Sneaky stuff. Might we be talking less of expulsion here and more of community cleansing? Getting rid of misfits, “ethnics”, the weak and vulnerable is rather fashionable at the moment. 

David Simon, guru of The Wire, has spoken of how America expels about 15 per cent of its “surplus” children. It goes roughly thus. You drive “them” half daft in a crossfire of poverty, bad education and bad housing. You mix in some savage fundamentalisms, where laughter might be illegal and ambiguity trashed and – whey heh! – you’ve nourished some serious psychic damage. Camila Batmanghelidjh calls it “a state chemical terror”. Then you punish it. You demonise these infant paupers, cut their support systems and cleanse them from the school community. Simples. Where do they go? Mad. Jail probably. It saves educating them.

Surely this can’t happen here? Surely the old paranoia is acting up? Or is this an urgent human rights issue? Some lawyers think so, like the Just for Kids Law Group and the School Exclusions Project, who’ve expressed serious alarm at the serious harm this new wheeze may wreck on the seriously harmed, the seriously vulnerable – and the not so serious Bunters in our classrooms. 

  • Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.

 


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