The recent statistics revealed by the Department for Education that one school in Sunderland excluded over half of it’s pupils during the 2017/18 academic year was startling. Not only this, but over 40 schools in the UK also excluded over 20% of their cohort during the same period.
I love teaching and I love working with children. One of the reasons that the DfE data caught my attention was that I originally trained in the North East of England and the bonds of my affection for Wallsend and the ‘canny bairns’ that I taught remain strong. It goes without saying that devoid of the context and knowledge of the circumstances involved in the individual cases at these schools, it is hard to make generalisations about the underlying issues behind the troubling headline figures.
Statistically, the children at this Sunderland school appear 50 times more badly behaved than the ‘national average’. This is clearly absurd. What is crystal clear is that the children who are serving the time, the teachers and leadership team who are punishing the crimes will all have unhappy stories to tell about this particular annus horribilus.
Outwith any particular school approach to misdemeanours, my recent work with some very challenging schools in Leeds leads me to suspect that the recent curriculum and exam changes haven’t helped with supporting pupil engagement and I empathise with the pain many of the teachers must feel. You can give a Michelin starred chef a piece of rotten chicken, but a bit of sugar and spice won’t make it taste nice, no matter how you attempt to jazz it up.
As those who know me well will testify, I do love a spreadsheet and a data set! Used judiciously, statistical data enlightens and helps to guide. It makes for an excellent servant. Interpreted poorly, through the prism of an existing agenda, or when we are slaves to it, data becomes pernicious and corrupting, making it possible to justify even the seemingly indefensible.
All the research evidence indicates that feeling loved, valued and respected is the best way to intrinsically motivate a human and give them the best chance to succeed, whether that human is a child, teacher or leader. This love and support is not propagated on a hidden SIMS database, or clunky target tracker, standardised score, Progress 8 performance measure, Ofsted checklist, DfE policy document or by any Minister of State delightedly pronouncing that teachers may use ‘reasonable force’ on unruly children.
In the context of successful learning and a happy school, what matters most is positive daily interactions between grown-ups, children, and grown-ups and children. This is where the love is to be found that intrinsically motivates us all and it is these bonds of affection that make the magic happen in schools. It’s why people apply to join our profession and feel a profound sense of vocation. Anything that unduly stifles this is any way is, frankly, unfit for purpose and has no place in any seat of learning.