Building on the good work done by the RSA's Pinball Kids programme, Paul brings several decades worth of experience to 'the education conversation'.
If there’s one thing I have an understanding of, it’s working with young people. When I say young, I mean from six or seven years of age up to 18 years old, and in either full-time mainstream, or ‘alternative access education’; I’ll explain what those last three words imply in a moment.
Suffice to say that the place where a young person (who was deemed unable to attend a regular school) attends for their education, will depend upon what school management and Educational Psychology or CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) and local authority - or an admix of all four - thought of the efforts the individual youngster made to fit in with a particular school’s ethos. It is also worth noting that parents are seldom asked what might be best for their children.
In the 1980s, I worked as what was called - euphemistically - a ‘behaviour support teacher’, working, initially with "maladjusted" children. Then with children in a secure placement, children in PRUs – pupil referral units - and finally children in their own schools, and occasionally, following exclusion, in their own homes.
So, in all the cases of off-site, unitary, or within school placements, judgements had been made according to how it was perceived the individual child presented within a particular school. This was itself dependent upon how well they ‘fit’ within the school’s discipline/sanctions and rewards schema.
The one thing they all had in common, however, was that every child’s problems, were deemed to exist ‘within child’, therefore apparently stemming from something innate and which could be pathologised (medicalised) and diagnosed. None of which was to be, or could (should) be attributed to poor teaching, poor resourcing, poor management and finally to National or other curricula drivers. Nor, indeed, to current education policy as a whole, to poverty, hunger, lack of awareness of SEN, to how to address issues appropriately... the list could go on.
So, if the individual had evidenced some form of psychological or possibly neurological issue (Dyslexia); or, indeed an issue such as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder) or any of several other ‘within child’ difficulties which might affect his or her ability to toe the line. CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services), were often involved in these assessments and, as said earlier, so might the Local Education Authority EPS, (Educational Psychology Service).
This duality was rare, however.
I’m not alone in noting the ‘toe the line’ strategy that schools used (and still use) to control and manipulate children. Jay Griffiths, in ‘Kin: The Riddle of the Childscape’ (2013) asserts that
“… Children, strangled by ties […] are learning a covert curriculum of power relations […] they are learning a right-wing political ethos that hierarchy is inevitable, that obedience, discipline and control are all important…”
Griffiths goes on to suggest that children learn that competition is:
“…[the] basis of education […] and that classification and measurement are the most important tools of thought …”
Interestingly, almost 50 years ago, Ivan Illich, in ‘Deschooling Society’ (1971) says that hildren have been ‘schooled down to size’, with the result being, as Griffiths suggests, that if we are concerned with focusing on the clock and what it measures, then we learn nothing about the meaning of time.
So, for a large number of children, schooling goes from being something that could be exciting, stimulating, eye and mind-opening to George Monbiot's reality of children confined to
‘[...] the classroom, stuffed with rules and facts, dragooned into endless tests: there could scarcely be a better formula for ensuring they become bored and disaffected [...]’
The upshot is the ‘disaffected’ being excluded and placed either in offsite units (PRUs), languishing at home, or sitting in cubicles in the school’s own exclusion room. They occupy themselves as best they can whilst being ‘wardened’ by a bored teacher (who has lost his/her non-contact time and has copped for keeping an eye on the disparate group in the room).
A not too happy time for any of the participants.
However, this, 'not too happy’ time isn’t simply confined to those suffering the irrelevance of being ‘excluded’. The quote which follows was made in Diane Reay’s astonishing book, ‘Miseducation: inequality, education and the working-classes’ (2017). Professor Reay was carrying out some research on SATs –Standardised Assessment Tasks and was in a Year 6 class in a school observing, when the teacher said the following to his class
“I was appalled by how most of you did on the science test. You don’t know anything. I want to say you are judged at the end of the day by what you get in the SATs, and some of you won’t get level 2”
Unsurprisingly, some of the class railed against this. Yet Reay knew that some of the children would internalise this and that it would shape their own perceptions of themselves as learners. And it is possible to further intuit that this lack of positive self-perception might, in turn, lead to children being ‘missing from school’ as highlighted by Partridge, in her article ‘Pinball Kids’ (2018 / 2019) in the RSA Journal, Issue 4, pp 24-29, citing the Children’s Commissioner who stated that 50,000 children annually went ‘missing from school’.
The result is poor outcomes for those children who are caught up in the proclivity we have for excluding, separating and then losing thousands of them. Their education is terminated by systems that insist that it is the child who is at fault, and that they must learn to fit in or be shut out.