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Tuesday, 17 April, 2001, 14:58 GMT 15:58 UK
End exclusion targets say teachers
By Gary Eason at the NASUWT conference in Jersey
Teachers have been told they must draw "a line in the sand" if their pupils are not to be sucked into aggressive and violent behaviour, one after another.
Dave Carver, a teachers' union representative at Bonus Pastor High School in Bromley, was given a standing ovation after his "hold the line" speech at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) annual conference.
The "inconspicuous" school in south-east London hit the headlines when a pupil who had been expelled but was reinstated by the school's governors took the NASUWT to court because its members at the school then refused to teach him. He lost.
Abolition of targets
The conference voted unanimously for a resolution demanding the abolition of the government target of reducing the number of expulsions by a third by 2002.
It did not, as the other big union, the NUT, did on Monday, call for industrial action if independent local appeal panels send back children expelled for violence - because, as its general secretary, Nigel de Gruchy pointed out, that has been the NASUWT's practice for decades.
So far this year its members have held 33 ballots in schools to refuse to teach disruptive pupils - against a previous average of 50 a year.
The most high-profile was that at Bonus Pastor school, which resulted in last week's High Court ruling that teachers did have the right to take such action.
Dave Carver, head of history at the school, said: "We were always being told that our school was a good school but to keep it like that you have to make sure that you draw a line in the sand.
"Behaviour management is the key to educational progress. All along the line you have to realise that you are holding the line.
"If the line is breached it's not one student that goes through it, it's one after the other.
"Students make risk assessments: 'Can I get away with this?' " he said, to loud applause.
Another delegate, Nigel Williams from Devon, talked about normally well-behaved students being "sucked into" bad behaviour by the malign influence of others.
Dave Battye from Sheffield said he was "amazed" at the level of verbal abuse teachers had to face - often the preamble to violence in the classroom.
"Children have become fashion accessories to many parents, who often defend them with a territorial approach just as they would defend their big car or their big house," he said.
"We expect parents to be producing children that are socially apt but they are producing children who are crassly a-social. Their language and behaviour indicates that they are the only person in the world."
The right to exclude
The School Standards Minister, Estelle Morris, told the conference she wanted to remind head teachers of "their right to exclude or almost their obligation to exclude" in certain cases.
She would be writing to school governors after Easter to clarify this.
But she could not agree with the conference's call for the abolition of the appeal panels - it would only lead to more court cases from aggrieved parents, she argued.
"I just don't buy that," said Nigel de Gruchy later. In his experience parents' cases were strengthened in court if they had already had the backing of an appeal panel.
As part of its effort to tackle the problem, the government says it has set up 1,000 units for disruptive pupils within schools, with 50 more planned.
But Estelle Morris said there was something of "a myth" that ministers' main concern was keeping such youngsters in schools.
They were also expanding the number of external "referral units" - to which pupils can be sent if they have been expelled or are in danger of being expelled.
Why teachers are angry
But what also annoys teachers is what they regard as the "fines" on schools which do exclude pupils.
Denise Southern, head of maths at Birkdale High School, Dewsbury, says it is almost impossible for a school to expel a child unless it has exhausted all the procedures in a now-notorious Department for Education circular which runs to seven chapters and five annexes.
These include involving outside agencies such as educational psychologists and social services departments.
But she says schools have only a fixed allocation of the use of such agencies - a few half days per month for an educational psychologist, for example - which can get used up.
And they are penalised financially because if they remove a pupil their local education authority is likely to "claw back" the funding for that pupil - but if they subsequently take in someone else they do not necessarily get the funding back.
'Back door' exclusions
But this did not worry popular, oversubscribed schools, she said.
Their head teachers could put pressure on the parents of disruptive children until they decided to move them to another school. The child was not actually expelled, so there was no penalty.
The parents had the right to choose which school they then sent their children to - and if a school had spare places it was obliged to take them.
Mike Chapman, from Bolton, said this "pupil dumping" was an "absolute evil" created by the existing policy.
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