Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. He is a retired head teacher and a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street.
Head teachers face a new threat when it comes to keeping order in their schools. For once, the challenge is not coming from violent and out-of-control pupils. It comes instead from the CND. I am not, however, referring to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. It is, though, an educational version of the same thing and can most aptly be described as the Campaign for Non-Deterrence.
Southwark Council in London has started the ball rolling. It has produced a 14-point, ‘zero-exclusion’ charter that takes away a head’s right to expel a pupil for unacceptable behaviour. Out-of-control kids who seem hellbent on destroying the learning and life chances of their classmates will no longer be at risk of removal.
Head teachers in Southwark are, understandably, less than happy about being unilaterally disarmed. According to a report in The Sunday Times a majority are demanding that, ‘where the safety and wellbeing of staff is put at risk’, the right to exclude is retained.
Southwark Council plans to replace exclusion with ‘trauma-based’ therapy sessions. The hope is that this will keep the recalcitrant youngster in class and away from the influence of street gangs. Most schools will, of course, already have used counselling sessions before reluctantly pressing the nuclear button of permanent exclusion.
There can be little doubt as to Southwark’s good intentions. The path to hell may be paved with good intentions but other councils, including Kirklees and Kent are already reported to be considering a similar move. There is no indication, sadly, that a school community as a whole – pupils, parents and teachers – will be given a vote or even a voice. This is not surprising. For most of us, the best interests of the overwhelming majority takes precedence over what may erroneously be construed as in the best interest of a few disruptive individuals. This does not mean that expelled pupils be cast aside. On the contrary, they should be given every support possible but not at the expense of wrecking the life chances of other children.
In too many schools, pupil behaviour is already troublesome. Back in 2015 the BBC sent five teachers from China into an English comprehensive school for four weeks. They were given a Chinese-style class of 50 pupils to teach. The school had been declared ‘School of the Year’ by the Times Educational Supplement, was rated as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted and had GCSE results that put it in the top ten in the country. The Chinese teachers raised the standard of attainment of their class compared to a control group with far fewer pupils. Although they gained some affection for the English school and its pupils, they expressed how appalled they were by pupil behaviour in the school.
So low is the behaviour bar in our schools that it is already extremely difficult for a pupil to find a way of getting expelled. I have, myself, been part of a local authority exclusion panel when, as chairman of governors, I was in the process of rescuing a failing school. It was easier to find a way of providing breakfast to under-nourished children than to expel a single child.
The folly of Southwark council and other councils that follow its example, will be exposed when teachers and headteachers decline to work in its schools. Teachers need to be supported, not undermined by well-meaning but irresponsible and thoughtless councillors. I challenge any one of those Southwark councillors to spend a month teaching classes which include difficult-to-manage pupils and to be filmed doing so by TV cameras. Having, myself, successfully taught for 35 years across a full range of schools, including a comprehensive of 2000 pupils, and been a headteacher, the thinking behind the ‘zero-expulsion’ charter suggests that I may still have something to learn. Teach me and thousands like me, Southwark council. Show us how it is done.
The best advice I can give to Southwark is to publish, with permission, this letter I received from a London parent after discussing the ‘zero-expulsion’ charter with Nick Ferrari on his LBC breakfast show:
Dear Mr McGovern
I refer to your compelling arguments in support of pupil exclusion, which you so eloquently expressed on LBC radio this morning, 20th July 2022.
I am a Ugandan-born British citizen, who was educated by African and British teachers in the last decade before and after the end of the British Protectorate. Our teachers had used traditional teaching methods, which required that children/students to unquestionably listen to and respect their teachers, and not speaking until asked to speak. We were given weekly, monthly and end of term tests and exams to assess our progress, with results displayed on the notice board. This display of test and exam results created a sense of healthy competition, which prompted those falling behind to work harder with a viewing to appearing nearer the top in the coming weeks and months. The reward of such hard work was a promotion from the last to middle-, or top-class stream. Yes, classes were streamed, not to embarrass any pupil, but to motivate us to work ever harder! The end results were doctors, engineers, lawyers, Airline captains and many of today’s leaders in Africa are a product of that teaching method.
It is today a tragic irony that many African parents who enjoyed the best education and succeeded despite the difficult social, economic and political conditions before fleeing to the UK, hoping to give their children the opportunity to benefit of the UK’s well-funded education, are having to send their children back home to save them (the children) from becoming victims of drug-addiction and or drug-fuelled knife murders. In fact, British schools have become more dangerous for African children than the tribal violence back home. To add insult to injury, some of these desperate parents have been accused of taking their children back for child marriage or FGM practices.
Those opposing the exclusion of a few disruptive pupils from schools are unwittingly destroying thousands of law-abiding, hardworking and highly motivated African children.
What is the solution?
The government should allow willing communities to form voluntary primary and secondary schools, where children are admitted on a written commitment by parents that:
- Children will listen to and respect their teachers, and not speak until asked to speak
- Teachers will teach a balanced history of the British Empire, highlighting both its real and alleged excesses as well as the lasting contributions to the countries it once ruled.
- Classes will be streamed
- Children will sit for weekly, monthly tests and exams
- Test and exam results will be displayed on notice boards outside each classroom
- Disruptive children will be expelled
Kind regards. [Name and address supplied and available].