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Category archive: Exclusion

Tuesday April 29 2008

I seem to be writing rather a lot about sociology, in the sense of how different power structures elicit radically different behaviour from the same people.

It occurs to me that one of the particular clichés of our culture just now, the stroppy middle class teenager, proves the point even more forcefully.  I refer to the teenager who is (a) monstrously badly behaved towards his or her own parents, but who is, simultaneously, (b) much better behaved towards other people.  The difference in behaviour is explained by the fact that the parents are defenceless against their own teenagers.  Can’t live with them, can’t kill them, etc.  In particular, can’t either torture them or else chuck the ungrateful parasites out into the street and slam their front doors in their faces.  Whereas, other people can do various versions of this.  They can either chuck them out, or shun them.

imageThis syndrome applies particularly to middle class teenagers, because their parents are the most dutiful and anti-punitive, hence most defenceless, and because middle class teenagers are quite well educated and have good prospects in the world at large, provided they treat the world at large with a modicum of politeness and don’t completely piss it off.  Their parents will forgive them no matter what they do.  The world will not be so forgiving.  The teenagers know this and act accordingly.

Middle class teenagers who are vicious to their parents but nice to others remind me of King Leopold II of Belgium.  King Leopold II was, simultaneously, a satisfactory King of Belgium, and a spectacularly disgusting ruler of the Belgian Congo, which was his personal possession and in which he murdered and plundered at will.  He deserves to be far better known, as the first of the great modern mass murderer-predators, alongside Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot and the rest of them.  King Leopold II behaved nicely in Belgium because he had to.  King Leopold II behaved disgustingly in Africa because he could.  Exact same principle.

Thursday April 10 2008

James Forsyth, at the Coffee House, talking about what the Conservatives have in mind for schools:

Once Gove’s supply-side reforms have been enacted, parents will be able to pick schools for their children rather than having the schools pick the pupils. Any school that isn’t up to scratch is simply going to see parents sending their children elsewhere.

In the short run, at least, I believe I see problems.

One of the most vital features of every good school I have ever attended, observed or heard of, is that (a) it has the right to refuse entry to pupils, and (b) it has the right to expel pupils who, despite repeated warnings, do not behave as the school wishes.

If a popular school does not have the right to refuse entry, does that mean that it has the obligation to educate as many children as want to go there, regardless of how crowded it gets, or of how much it is obliged to expand (even if it would prefer not to expand, thank you very much)?  Ludicrous.  Places at any particular school must be rationed.  To demand anything else would be insane.  The right to reject has to be there, if only to reject those towards the back of the queue, regardless of any judgments made of individual pupils in that queue.  (Not that there is anything wrong with doing that, either.)

What of the right to expel?  If schools do not have the right to expel, a lot of good parents, of (at least potentially) well-behaved children, are going to be disappointed, because discipline in the schools they choose will surely be as bad as ever.  Good schools do not use the expulsion threat wantonly or routinely, but it has to be there.  You cannot alter unacceptable behaviour if, actually, you are obliged to accept it.

In the very short run, supply will be what it is now, and I do agree that this may change.  But how soon?  Are the Conservatives ready for the toughing-it-out period that they will surely face, while new schools laboriously lumber towards the new market, finding somewhere to operate, getting local permission to operate, having been reassured that the rules have changed.  Again, will they so lumber?  Will they be so reassured?  They could lose a lot of money and waste a lot of effort if they are promised rights that they end up not having.  Remember, getting politics out of something is itself a political process.

And what of the parents of children who do get expelled?  They are now being promised “the school of your choice”.  Not only will they not get the school of their choice - see above - but they are liable not to get any school at all, if the right to reject and to expel is taken seriously.

I favour schools having the right to reject and expel.  But part of the reason I favour this is that I favour certain “customers” being handed the unwelcome news that no teacher of the usual sort wants anything to do with their children until they behave at least somewhat better than they are behaving now.

So, will the government simply take charge of all these miscreants?  If it doesn’t, the voters will get very agitated.  If it does, it will need many more juvenile miscreant hutches than it now has.

Here to, even in the most low-end part of the market, I believe that the market will, eventually, if allowed to, supply far better answers than the state does now, in the form of more sports oriented, more militaristic, more open air and shouty schools such as more vigorously feral juveniles might improve in and become civilised in.  A sort of free market answer to all that talk about bringing back national service.  But, will the politicians be willing to wait for such things to happen?

I’m no politician, so I naturally favour honesty about these things, rather than politics.  At present, the way it seems to me is that for many, if the Conservatives attempt what they say they will attempt, things will get worse before they start getting better.  So will mere politics be good enough?  It will probably be good enough to help the Conservatives win their next election.  But will it be good enough to win the winning, so to speak, and actually make education in Britain get any better?  My questions are not rhetorical.  I’m genuinely asking, and am open to the idea that I have missed all kinds of answers that will sooth my fears.  As so often, much of the point of this posting is to remind me of the state of my thinking just now.  And as for those reading over my shoulder, so to speak, I won’t be able to say: I said that!  But, I may be able to say: I did wonder about that.

Monday April 07 2008

Blogs like the Spectator Coffee House blog keep tabs on Conservative education policy so don’t have to, and this posting seems to sum up the present state of play in the government controlled bits of the education system quite well and what the Conservatives have in mind to try to improve matters.

I am starting to think that there are two huge principles that need to be accepted if Britain’s inexorable ... call it disappointment ... is to be replaced by something more optimistic.

First, parent power has got to be re-established, for all parents and not just for reasonably good parents with lashings of money.  Something like education vouchers will be needed.  My preferred version of education vouchers is the best sort of vouchers there are, namely: money.  But, I quite understand that that’s a political non-starter for the time being.  Not that this will stop me trying to find out as much as I can about genuinely free market and voluntary enterprises along the lines of Kings Cross Supplementary, if only as a means of spreading the idea that this will eventually be the best way to do things.

What won’t work is merely tinkering around with the powers of the government.  For instance, it may be a short term improvement to shut down a bad old government school and build some new government schools, and to sack the previous managers (the local authority) and replace them with new management (a “private sector” education provider).  But sacking civil servants or local bureaucrats and replacing them with government contractors makes no fundamental difference, and government contractors have a horrible way of degenerating into corrupt parodies of government departments.

So, there must be parental power.  And that means parental choice.  Parents must be allowed to choose schools, and unchoose them if they don’t like them.  A market will be no use if the government merely becomes the sole customer in the market.  The parents must be the customers.  Their vouchers must be theirs to spend on whatever they like.

But something else is needed, which is an explicit rejection of egalitarianism.  If vouchers are introduced, good parents will make good use of them, quickly.  But what of bad parents?  What about the bad children of bad parents, unchosen by the schools of their first choice, as must be allowed.  To start with, they won’t know what to do with their choices, and other people’s choices will hurt them.  They’ll have to learn, which may take time, as will the process of expanding the supply of education to the point where formerly bad parents start to see some point in learning about the new opportunities they now have.  While this is all going on, educational inequality will surely increase, because the big immediate change will be that the bad education now forced upon good families will quite quickly get better.  Won’t it?  Are the politicians ready to grit their teeth and tough it out, while bad parents slowly work out that it might be worth them becoming good parents again, now that good choices are slowly starting to come on stream for them?

To put it another way, progress always bring inequality, because as soon as the entire caravan starts to move, it spreads out across the desert.

Speaking personally, and to repeat a point I have surely made here before, whenever I do any teaching, I am a total disbeliever in educational equality.  I actively disbelieve in either equal educational provision or equal educational outcomes.  I want the kid I’m teaching to get massively better than average teaching, and to do massively better with his life as a result.  I want my pupil to be obscenely privileged.  Whether he is obscenely privileged when I teach him is another matter.  But that’s what I’m aiming for.

Tuesday March 18 2008

The headline alone tells most of the story: Classrooms have become war zones, battered and threatened teachers say.

Key quote:

Official figures also suggest that schools are finding it increasingly difficult to exclude violent pupils because of the growing tendency by governors and appeal panels to overturn the head’s decision. Between 1997 and 2007 permanent exclusions fell by 25 per cent to 9,170 cases nationwide. But over the same period the proportion of expulsions overruled by panels rose from 20 to 24 per cent.

Which means that many other pupils that a head would have excluded in former times now also stay, to make more mayhem, not because the head wants to keep the pupils, but simply because the head fears he/she will be overruled.

More war talk here.

Friday March 07 2008

For many this is a terribly difficult case:

A court hearing has begun over a Jewish school’s admissions policy, which may have implications for at least another 20 schools and other organisations.

The JFS in north-west London is accused of discriminating against an 11-year-old boy it refused to admit.

He was rejected in favour of “committed atheists” because his mother was not regarded as Jewish, his family’s lawyer told the High Court in London.

For me, it’s easy, from the legal point of view if not the moral or the religious.  The High Court shouldn’t have to bother with this.  The school doesn’t want him and shouldn’t have to take him.

Plus, why would you want your child to attend a school that you are taking to the High Court for being, as you see it, irrational and nasty?

Saturday January 26 2008

My deepest thanks to TDK, commenting on this posting, for alerting me to a blogger who is new to me but look very major, To Miss with Love.

And right away, we step into the hornet’s nest that is the debate about exclusion.  Forty one comments and counting when I last looked, from both ends of the debate, heated on both sides.

I will now use a classic junior blogger technique, and recycle the comment I have just contributed to the senior blog.  This was my pennyworth, just added to the above posting, making it 42 comments:

Fascinating. I’ve not read all of these comments right through so I may be repeating a point already made, but if so, sorry, but I believe it worth repeating.

“Exclusion” is not just the actual process of chucking someone out. It is the credible threat that one might do this in the future, to a pupil behaving badly.

Without that threat, the teacher has no power to make a badly behaved pupil behave better. With it, a badly behaving pupil might learn to behave better. It is no exaggeration, surely, to say that such a threat might make all the difference to a life which might have gone either way, to criminality and destruction and self-destruction, or towards something much better.

In other words, the exclusion threat actually does favours to many of those who are risking exclusion by behaving badly, by facing them with the possible consequences of bad behaviour before those consequences become actual.

Letting bad kids do as they please, ... until one day you slam them in jail, doesn’t seem like a good policy to me, nor even a nice one.

Rather badly explained. I have much to learn about teaching. (I do teach a little, and we do have the exclusion threat on our side, but we almost never have to talk about it.) But I hope some people understood that.

And I hope you did too.

ADDENDUM: I see that Shuggy had also commented on this ruckus, which became a ruckus because of this.