Tuesday, March 2, 1999 Published at 07:35 GMT
School that stopped exclusions
Violence is never tolerated at Langdon Comprehensive
By Sean Coughlan
An East London comprehensive with 1,800 pupils speaking 40 languages, in one of the capital's poorest boroughs, might be expected to have high exclusion rates.
But Langdon Comprehensive School in East Ham has now gone three years without permanently expelling any pupils.
In terms of inner-city schools this is an impressive statistic, as the number of expulsions nationally has remained stubbornly high.
In 1996-97, there were 12,700 pupils permanently excluded in England, a figure that has so concerned the government that it is promising to reduce it by a third by 2002.
Langdon's headteacher, Vanessa Wiseman, says that at the beginning of the decade the school was similar to many other inner-city schools, expelling a pupil on average once every three weeks.
But the introduction of a policy of inclusion, rather than exclusion, has seen a radical shift of emphasis, with much creative effort being put into finding alternatives to simply throwing disruptive pupils out of school.
"When pupils are excluded they don't just disappear. They still live near to the school, they might still hang around the school," said Ms Wiseman.
"In years to come their children might come to the school, with all the problems of disaffection that their parents had. We're trying to tackle the problem rather than push it elsewhere."
The school's policy of inclusiveness extends to taking pupils with many different types of special needs, including those with learning difficulties, physical handicaps and behavioural disorders.
This determinedly broad interpretation of "comprehensive" has been marked by steady improvements in behaviour and exam results - despite the fears that an open-access policy would lead to a slump in the school's academic performance.
Although there are offences which will lead to an automatic expulsion, such as selling drugs, the headteacher says that the school makes it clear that it will make every effort to avoid expelling pupils.
Instead the school has developed a range of support services that seek to prevent behavioural problems escalating into confrontations, threats and removal from classes.
Countering suggestions that this might be seen as going 'soft' on bad behaviour, the headteacher says that in practice pupils find the complex process of corrective measures, involving the school, parents and support agencies, much harder than the threat of expulsion.
Cooling down room
Teachers will visit pupils' parents at home to discuss ways of stopping disruptive behaviour and specialist support staff are available to tackle the particular problems of children with emotional or behavioural difficulties.
There is a 'school council' which brings together pupils and teachers to encourage a sense of involvement in the running of the school.
If there are flare-ups and losses of temper, pupils can be sent to calm down in a room staffed by a senior teacher. This "referral base" is then used to find the causes of the problem and to provide a structured way in which the pupil can be re-admitted to the class.
"Not excluding pupils doesn't mean that we tolerate bad behaviour. It means setting up sanctions that work and using the back-up staff to take a different tack," said the headteacher.
The school has been supported by the local authority, the London Borough of Newham, which has also adopted a policy of inclusion, encouraging the sending of pupils with special needs to mainstream schools.
The school and the education authority were highlighted in a conference in London this week - An Inclusive Approach to Difficult Behaviour - organised by the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education.