Page last updated at 11:02 GMT, Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Why do we exclude five-year-olds?

By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education reporter

Aaron
Aaron now takes medication to control his ADHD

Figures have shown the high number of under-fives being excluded from school, but is it the right thing to do?

When Aaron was excluded from his then infant school at the age of five, his mother Emma felt he was being labelled a bad child - and she a bad parent.

The youngster was getting into scuffles with classmates, and Emma was repeatedly called up to the school near Swindon to discuss his behaviour.

"At the end of the day, all children fight and mess about. Aaron just gets a bit over-excited.

"To me, he was just a normal boy - but a very active one. I was told he would grow out of it by the health visitors," she said.

"Then I got called in again to say he was being excluded because he hit a child in the playground and for spitting at a member of staff.

I wanted him in school - that was where he needed to be for his education
Emma, Aaron's mother

"They said that he would have to be excluded and I thought, 'What do I do now?

"I didn't want him at home, I wanted him in school - that was where he needed to be for his education.

"I wanted help, but there was a waiting list for help from the local child and family consultation services.

"I was told I would have to wait 10 months for an appointment so I went to the local paper and I got an appointment the next day."

Mainstream

Emma believes it was the publicity surrounding her son's case that got her moved up the waiting list, although Swindon Council disputes this.

"If he had waited 10 months for appointment he would probably have ended up in a special needs school," she said.

Aaron was allowed back to the school after his fixed-term exclusion, for some time it was only for part of the day, as he seemed to deteriorate after lunch.

A few weeks later he was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and a programme of care was drawn up, which involved medication that has helped manage his condition and hence improved his behaviour.

Now, six years on, he has just started at a mainstream secondary school.

Emma and her husband are hoping that with his statement of special educational needs, things will go well for him here.

In a sense, Aaron is one of the lucky ones because the response to his exclusion, and the problems that caused them, was pretty quick.

If it had not happened that way he could have been subject to a string of fixed term exclusions which many experts believe have a negative effect on a child.

'Still being formed'

Peter Wilson, clinical adviser of the Place2Be charity, which helps support and keep troubled children in school, said: "The worst thing you can do to a child is to exclude them.

"Once you go down that road it gets easier for the school to do it again and the child gets hardened to it.

"Exclusion means that we don't want you, we reject you, we don't like the way you are.

"And that's of course the very message that many of these kids are struggling with from home."

In Scandinavian countries, this would be called child abuse
Professor Carl Parsons

Instead, his organisation offers in-school support to children, teachers and parents, through qualified counsellors and volunteer counsellors who are carefully supported and well vetted.

"These children who are driving teachers up the wall, it's usually because of aggressive or violent behaviour.

"The work that we do gets to the bottom of that behaviour - towards the underlying cause," says Mr Wilson.

'Still friends'

And it seems that England is unusual within Europe in excluding children from school.

Professor of Education at Canterbury Christ Church University, Carl Parsons, said: "Most other countries don't do it like this - France, Germany, Holland, Belgium.

"In Scandinavian countries, this would be called child abuse - to remove them from an institutional setting designed to meet their needs.

"The big question is why do we exclude children who are that small, vulnerable, and dependant? They are still being formed and deserving of a future."

A study he carried out into primary school exclusions found that schools tended to rely on disciplinary measures to cope with disruptive behaviour, rather than examining the individual children and offering appropriate support.

School fence
Exclusions can make children feel rejected

This may be in part due to the fact that this support is often in short supply, with long waits for counselling and mental health appointments.

Although exclusions are sometimes undertaken to get the child the help he or she needs, they are "damaging rather than restorative", says Prof Parsons.

"That sort of reaction to a child is not helpful in trying to help them get on with the other pupils."

However, he does recognise that some teachers will send young pupils home for an afternoon because they have become too upset to be in school.

Aaron's mother Emma believes there must be a better way to get children the services and support they need to enable them to learn.

"If they had come to me when the behaviour started and said we are thinking of excluding him, it might have been better.

"But to suddenly say he's not coming to school for a week - and he's five years old. He should have gone to a pupil referral unit straight away.

"The children that he hit - they were still his friends, they still came to tea and over to play."



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