Monday, July 17, 2017

Headteachers are flouting the law to keep unruly pupils in school - against the interests of the terrorised majority

My niece is being bullied. She's been threatened and abused at school, on social media and even in her own home. Two weeks ago, the bullies screamed obscenities down the phone at her, in earshot of her distraught parents. The ring-leader and her malevolent sidekicks are serial offenders, from challenging backgrounds - by all accounts -  and on the local area watch list for shoplifting. My brother, her father, is going out of his mind. His daughter is hurting and, as any parent reading this will understand, he is hurting, too. Last week, and with the agreement of the school, she didn't go in at all. She simply couldn't face the abuse.

Her abusers, of course, had no such fears, even though they'd admitted to harassing her, and to circumventing her desperate attempts to block them on social media by setting up new accounts and continuing to hound her with abusive pictures and hurtful messages. It is terribly cruel, and my niece is both tormented and deeply upset, perhaps unalterably. It really is an awful burden for any young child to bear.

At every turn, her father has been ignored and fobbed off by the pastoral leader responsible for her safety, his daughter advised to make new friends - even though, through fear of being targeted next, the other children are reluctant to mix with her – and the perpetrators given ineffective punishments that, instead of getting progressively more severe, simply get repeated time and time again – a risible merry-go-round that renders the sanctions feeble and inefficacious.

Undeterred and angered by the school's inaction, my brother organised a meeting with the Headteacher, during which, to his astonishment, she couldn't even locate the school's bullying policy. When she eventually did, she was embarrassed to discover that it was out of date and should have been reviewed some time ago. She clearly didn't even know what was in it - a breath-taking oversight, especially when one considers the prevalence of mental health disorders linked to childhood bullying, and the high number of suicides committed by victims every year. (This, incidentally, and quite unbelievably, is a partially selective school with an outstanding reputation. Based just outside North London, it is feted by politicians and luminaries of all stripes. One well-known MP sent her son there.)

My brother rightly protested and made clear his view that the school was failing in its duty to protect his child. When he asked what the school intended to do regarding the bullies, the Headteacher initially refused to tell him, apparently due to pupil confidentiality. After he persisted though, insisting that any victim has the right to know the punishment meted out to their attackers, she reluctantly obliged. They were to be placed in isolation, for how long wasn't specified.

Anyway, the day after the sanctions were enacted, the girls continued to attack my niece. They clearly hadn't worked. Now she's refusing to attend school, quite understandably, her education disrupted by persistent abuse and recidivists determined to make her life a misery. More to the point, though, is the fact that they are being empowered by a school that refuses to effectively sanction them, even though, by the Head's admission, they have a charge sheet as long as her arm.

With this in mind, I read this week's TES. According to an article by Warwick Mansell, Headteachers are breaking the law to offload pupils with behavioural issues. Unable to provide the authorities with the evidence to support fixed term and permanent exclusions, they are unlawfully and informally pushing pupils out with managed moves and threats of expulsion - ostensibly, and rather selfishly, to improve their results and ultimately secure their positions.

Knowing the propensity of schools to bungle paperwork, I suspect that this is more the result of incompetence than any malign conspiracy to get rid of unwanted and unvalued pupils in a bid to improve headline figures. In other words, if schools kept accurate records and consistently followed clear behavioural policies, it is often the case that pupils unlawfully pushed out would've been legally and permanently excluded instead.

Indeed, whether pushing them out unlawfully or finally deciding to permanently exclude, most schools do it as a last resort.

In fact, in my experience, Headteachers are flouting the law to keep unruly pupils in school - against the interests of the silent, harassed majority, as the treatment of my niece demonstrates.

Behavioural and bullying policies, if they even exist, are inadequate and inconsistently followed. Persistent rule-breakers are given chance after chance and innocent, hardworking children are prevented from learning in a safe and secure environment. I couldn't tell you how many children I've taught who have - and here I paraphrase the DFE's 2012 exclusion guidance - seriously and persistently breached school behavioural policies and harmed the education and welfare of others. That so many have done so with impunity is unforgivable. It is also unlawful. Schools have a statutory duty to protect the welfare of their pupils. They can't without robust responses to poor behaviour enabled by clear, unequivocal policies. In short, this duty is not being fulfilled.

My niece is a victim of her school's wrong-headed determination to keep disruptive, abusive and violent children in school, contrary to Mansell's contention that schools are only too eager to unlawfully move them on. By refusing to fulfil their obligations to prevent bullying and protect her right to an education, they are placing the perceived need to avoid managed moves and exclusions above her welfare. It is nothing short of a disgrace. It's also about time the TES dispensed with its anti-exclusion, bleeding-heart narrative that puts the welfare of bullies above that of the innocent, silent majority. Perhaps they could run a piece on the need to protect children from teachers and Headteachers who, through inaction, give their violent peers permission to terrorise them. Just a thought.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Brexit is Lady Thatcher's baby. Let's hope the eternal pessimists don't undo her good work.

When one considers our historic, ever-changing and uneasy relationship with the European project, one can't escape the conclusion that it's predicated upon a post-war diminution in national self-confidence brought about by the decline and fall of the British empire.

Our victory in the great twentieth-century struggle against Nazism, Fascism and Japanese Militarism may have led to unbridled celebrations and unprecedented feelings of national pride, but, ultimately, and quite unexpectedly, it introduced a period of national decline and soul-searching, punctuated by the odd awakening, until 1979, when a more long-lasting and irreversible revival took place. Indeed, last summer's vote, one could argue, was the consequence of Thatcher's revolution and the resurgence in national pride and confidence that accompanied it.

During World War Two, the contradiction immanent in Britain's fight for freedom against Nazi imperialism whilst presiding over the largest seaborne empire in history was necessarily ignored. After victory, however, this was no longer possible. It had to be confronted. The British empire had become morally unjustifiable and consequently unsustainable, as well as, after the financial strain of the war, economically unviable to boot. In 1947 the jewel in Britain's imperial crown was granted independence and violently partitioned into Pakistan and the new self-governing nation of India; Ghana gained independence in 1957 and Nigeria in 1960; indeed, throughout the Fifties and Sixties, like dominoes, Britain's imperial possessions fell into the hands of charismatic, indigenous leaders armed with the language of freedom used by the British themselves, and promising self-determination.

Britain had become a shadow of its former glory. Britannia no longer bestraddled the world, mistress of the seas, trident in hand; instead, she sat passively, seeking handouts from her new creditor and master on the other side of the Atlantic - an ocean once dominated by the imposing guns of her navy. In 1956, in a final coup de grace, her master and patron chased her out of Suez with a swift, humiliating reproach. Britain's hegemony was at an end.

Let's just imagine for one moment what this meant to its people, how disorienting it must have been. Everything they had known, everything they had taken for granted, their identity and the sense of self that came with it, had been turned upside down. It is unsurprising that a great loss in national self-confidence ensued and, to make matters worse, Britain, exhausted and demoralised, peered across the English Channel and enviously observed the economic miracle taking place in Europe.

In West Germany, for example - as a result of Marshall Aid, currency reform and responsible labour relations, as well as the opening up of global markets -, industrial output doubled and Gross National Product grew by 9 to 10% per year between 1950 and 1957. Between 1947 and 1973, moreover, the French economy grew by, on average, 5% per annum. Both countries, along with Italy, which also experienced phenomenal growth rates during this period, caught up to and eventually exceeded Britain's GNP. Furthermore, from 1950 to 1965, Britain's GNP per capita slipped from 7th to 12th in the world. By 1975 it was down to 20th.

Riddled with inflation, beset by poor productivity, declining industries and truly dreadful labour relations, not to mention a precipitously haemorrhaging empire and concomitant decline in global prestige, Britain's leaders desperately sought to find a new role in the world and forge a new identity by joining the Common Market and, they thought, tying themselves to Europe's economic miracle. After being refused entry in 1961, Edward Heath's Conservative administration finally joined the European Economic Community in 1973 - a decision ratified by the British people in a referendum two years later. The loss of national self-confidence that resulted from our post-war imperial retreat and relative economic decline had led to a decision made of desperation and fear. We indeed joined the EEC in a fit of both pique and panic.

However, Thatcher changed everything. Her radical reforms, unapologetic patriotism, uncompromising will and remarkable character lifted the nation out of its post-war torpor and restored its self-confidence. The unions were tamed, fiscal profligacy was replaced by fiscal restraint, markets were liberalised, inefficient nationalised industries were privatised, inflation was controlled and, consequently, annual growth exceeded 4 percent during the late 1980s. A British 'economic miracle' was being enviously mooted on the continent - a truly remarkable turnaround from the stagnation and misery afflicting the nation just 10 years earlier. Successive governments, even Labour ones, refused to reverse the Iron Lady's reforms and, in 2015, Britain was crowned the fifth largest economy in the world, largely thanks to her courageous endeavours - endeavours wisely left to bear fruit by her successors.

Most important, though, was the national pride restored by Lady Thatcher's indomitable spirit and sense of moral purpose. Along with Reagan, she led the free world's fight against the inhumanity of Soviet Communism; in 1982, she ignored her doubters and successfully dispatched a task force to wrestle back the Falkland Islands from Argentina's military junta; and in 1990, just before her downfall, she encouraged George Bush senior, then American president, to dispense with the wobbling and stand firm against Saddam Hussein after his unprovoked attack on Kuwait. Like Britannia, Thatcher bestrode the global stage, handbag in hand, and gave Britain back its pride and self-confidence.

That this national revival led to rising public disaffection with the EU cannot be gainsaid. Why should a wealthy, self-confident country like Britain sacrifice its sovereignty for a sclerotic, unresponsive, undemocratic, supranational and meddlesome bureaucracy like the European Union? On 23rd June 2016, the answer was clear: it shouldn't.

If Britain joined what was to become the EU in a moment of disorientation and self-doubt, it voted out as a confident, self-assured, optimistic, outward-looking and independent nation state. For this, we have Lady Thatcher to thank. I do hope that the eternal pessimists, with all their threats and scaremongering, don't undo this wonderful affirmation of patriotism and national self-confidence.