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 When she eventually did, she was embarrassed to discover that it was out of date and should have been reviewed some time ago.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.


  1. I fear this type of situation is quite widespread. It is not uncommon here in New Zealand where school leadership teams refuse to escalate consequences for bad behaviour and try to do anything to keep the misbehaving students in school. I think it is caused by a number of things - a misguided desire to help the troubled perpetrators at the expense of the many, pressure from the ministry of education to reduce expulsion numbers and most of all a failure and unwillingness to enforce high standards of behaviour as a prerequisite to any teaching and learning taking place. The student centered/engagement model which dominates educational thinking means that poor student behaviour is blamed on a teacher's failure to engage students or build a relationship with them. This in turn leads to teachers not being supported effectively, if at all.

  2. Sympathise and agree.

    Daughter is a high-achieving, stoic introvert who doesn't make a fuss because doesn't want to be centre of attention. At primary school that made her an obvious least-worst choice for a UKS2 hot-seat next to the strapping, physically violent boy managed-moved from elsewhere and she got the bruises, chunks of hair cut off etc. We went to school over a massive, very nasty bruise she hadn't mentioned but you couldn't miss when she was lounging around post-shower: " hurt so much I couldn't help crying, but I didn't want anyone to see me so I kind of hid that behind my book". ::much parental guilt:: New seating plan, plenty of other kids still damaged in playground, housepoints for not hitting someone today, then the next beleagured teacher up applied the same least-worst logic and put daughter back in the same seat. Not beyond an early phone-call the next morning though. After two years of HT's 'one more chance' at lots of kid's expense that boy went to a different local comp and (hurrah!) was evicted to a BESD school within a few weeks.

    Treads carefully, but I think live in an extremity of your this school's wide [partially] super-selective catchment. But for too much travelling would have likely prepped and thrown credible contender daughter at their tests. Yes it is difficult to reconcile with a plutographic reputation. Local comp has it's faults, but they promptly dealt with a recent bullying case targeting one of daughter's very good friends.

  3. I had a similar experience at Sevenoaks School. Since I have Asperger's the school dismissed the bullying as being "my perception" and branded me a "fantasist." I was eventually left with no choice but to leave the school mid-term (foregoing an academic scholarship) because the school chose to empower the bullies by characterising me as someone with a mental illness rather than addressing the bullying. Sadly, I have recently been contacted by their new victim. The student asked for my advice on how to deal with the bullying. I was forced to leave and I fear this student will be forced to leave too. I hope there comes a time when schools are willing to take appropriate action and stop victim blaming. See: