This is a blog that I should not need to write. Some things should be taken as a given, especially in the world of teaching. One of these things is the protection of vulnerable learners. They go to school to learn, just like any other child.
Some years ago, but perhaps not as long back as we might like, there was an issue with having Black children in our classrooms. Some believed that having children with a different coloured skin – the skin colour of our ancestors – would upset the sensitive nature of their offspring. Of course being taught by the colour of one’s skin is unthinkable now, except for a minority of people who are racist. And yet, I have started to see a backlash against BAMEed – ‘don’t let them shame you’. Excuse me? I have not read the click-bait articles because I have no time for racists. Professional mixes should reflect the communities they serve.
‘Shaming’ seems to be a bit of a buzz-word, a put-down when those who think themselves superior are feeling that their social position is being threatened. The Age of Men is coming to an end, or more precisely, the age of the privileged, which is usually while, middle-class and male, is coming to an end. King Cnut showed his people that he was just a man, he could not hold back the tide. It is time teaching did the same.
I have attended many tribunals and advised on others. One of the biggest issues I see is directly related to Disability Discrimination; the idea that somehow, if a child has additional needs, they are fair game for poor treatment. Although not all children with SEN are also disabled, it is suggested that 85% will meet the threshold. Somehow, SEN has become synonymous with bad behaviour. However, in my experience, it is not the children behaving badly, but the schools in which they spend a huge swathe of their waking moments.
Recently I saw a post in a local FB group. It went along the lines of – is it ok for a Head teacher to exclude my child from the school trip in two weeks because he had a meltdown during one of his SATs papers? A great many parents responded with – yes, my child’s school did this – and – maybe they do not have enough staff to look after your child and keep them safe? My response was no, exclusion must be proportionate – and it matters not about staff. You cannot staff a trip for the masses then say the few can’t go!
Stephen is a very well-spoken boy who has an underlying ability in the above average range. Stephen also has ASD, so he is a little hyper-vigilant and likes rules and structure. He is a studious boy, but sometimes he gets overwhelmed so he had access to a calm room – essentially a cupboard with a chair. It suited his needs, it was a Reasonable Adjustment. Only, the school decided that it didn’t want Stephen to use his calm space, so started put barriers in the way. One of those barriers resulted in Stephen retreating to the corner of the room, put his hands over his ears and rock. This was not in a lesson, no other pupils were present. The event was the direct result of a member of staff acting in a manner designed to ‘wind him up’. This happens in most of the cases I hear about. The child’s response to an inappropriate action by an adult who had the full knowledge that it would cause distress.
This one small action, of which there were no repeats (because policy was then followed), meant that his behaviour had become so extreme that the risk assessment for the school trip became ‘red’. Stephen might sit down & rock on a mountainside and put an entire party at risk. There’s not a lot of mountainsides in Matlock…….
We went to tribunal and the Head teacher employed a solicitor to fight the case. She denied ramping up the exclusion from ‘let’s talk’ to ‘no’ within hours. She could not explain why support staff had already arranged an alternative activity to take place at the school, before the parents knew their child was excluded. The school, quite rightly, lost their case. It was a clear abuse of power. The child was devastated.
You cannot claw back the mental damage done to the child. The actions over the child’s time at that school (there were plenty other incidents, we picked what was most devastating and easily proven) were no different to the slow and insidious nature of many acts of domestic abuse.
This abuse is being carried out day in and day out. I hear it constantly. Parents relay ‘daily life’ and I’m notching up how many actions being described are deliberately discriminatory. Some are so overt they are breathtaking. Bold and brazen. It transcends race, colour, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, parental affluence and age – all may have a disability and be the target.
Local headlines this week tell of a school Head issuing fixed-term exclusions from his first day. Exclusions must take a graduated approach and be proportionate to the incident. Where a child has SEN, steps must be taken to avoid exclusion. This Head clearly did not follow any steps. He went straight to the extreme. He is not the only Head doing this. In a neighbouring school the Head did likewise. This is happening in schools across the country. Deliberate targeting of those with SEN is abuse. Schools act in loco parentis, but if they were parents, this would be called domestic abuse. The following would apply:
A coercive or controlling behaviour offence came into force in December 2015. It carries a maximum 5 years’ imprisonment, a fine or both. Victims who experience coercive and controlling behaviour that stops short of serious physical violence, but amounts to extreme psychological and emotional abuse, can bring their perpetrators to justice.
This is happening to our children in schools and increasingly unchecked. Anyone not standing against this type of behaviour are complicit in it. I do realise though that some teachers may be ‘stuck’ in bad schools for a variety of reasons. However, this is not ‘school shaming’, it is a cry for justice.