Let us keep our schools safe.


Anybody who works in a school will tell you one of the most upsetting things that can happen is a child you care about suddenly and unexpectedly rounding on you with something vicious and deliberately calculated to hurt. This might be a comment like “nobody ever learns anything in your lesson”, or “you know nobody in this school likes you?”

It feels like being slapped in the face. It can make you suddenly short of breath or bring the pinprick pain of bitter tears. In that instant we forget all the wonderful things children say (often by the same child who has just insulted us) and feel weak, degraded and unappreciated.

But we get on. We calmly give the appropriate punishment. We take our deep breaths. We think about something happier. We run it off after school and remind ourselves that the child who has hurt us is a child who isn’t yet capable of understanding everything we’ve done and will continue to do for them.

It’s hard but we do it. Because we have to and because it is the right thing to do.

Following days of politician and commentator moral pontification about how school exclusion rates are driving gang culture and associated knife crime I’m feeling something of the same emotion. I, like thousands and thousands of school staff, from cleaners to Head teachers, from TAs to governors, feel so very, very unfairly under attack.

Of course we all know it to be utter nonsense. We went to schools and paid attention before we worked in them. We understand the difference between correlation and causation. We understand how to interpret statistics properly. We’ve been in the fraught behaviour meetings. We’ve been to the courts. We’ve been on the phone to overstretched social services and the police, and CAHMS, and educational psychologists. We’ve made the plans and revised the plans and made more plans and revised them again. We’ve woken in the small hours and worried. We’ve been in the pub with our friends and family on a Friday night and suddenly gone quiet as we tune out, because a situation has suddenly exploded to the forefront of our minds like a malevolent jack-in-the-box. We’ve taken the calls from concerned parents and from others in the community. Our minds have turned over worst case scenarios if we get a decision wrong, we hear the insistent and insidious whisper of ‘what if.. what if.. what if..”

We know all this and we don’t complain because we don’t have time to and because the stripping away of social support over the last few years doesn’t change the fact that we stand on the front line and, come what may, have children to keep safe and educate.

And we do all this and we don’t complain and yet we are under attack.

We are attacked because by making the agonising decision to exclude a dangerous child we are now told we make society less safe. We are told that we are the reason that children join gangs. We are told that we are the reason that children attack each other. We are told that we are the reason that those we care most about are at risk of prison, injury or death.

Oh and how it hurts.

It hurts all the more because these attacks are coming from those who should be defending us – the same political parties that expect us to raise standards and drive social mobility now tell us that we should not be able to make the decisions that keep our schools safe. They indulge and parrot lazy assumptions that just aren’t true; that we systematically off-roll children just because they won’t get good exam results, and that we expel children for not having equipment or for not knowing Shakespeare.

They take England’s most worrying social problems, they gather them up, they roll them all together and then they flytip them outside the gates of our schools. Then they have the gall to wring their hands about how we can’t find or keep teachers.

Do they actually think we are to blame? Really? Or do they know we aren’t but see the opportunity to score political points by attacking those they think won’t fight back? It is impossible to say which of these possibilities is the more frightening.

None of this will keep me up at night though. I can shake this off. What will is the possibility that the narrative that school exclusions drive crime will be accepted, and decisions will be made that mean we can’t do what we need to do ensure the safety of the schools in which we work.

What keeps me up is the fear that our ability to keep our wonderful safe and happy school will be eroded by stupid, dumb and dangerous politicking. And I care far too much to stand for it.


One thought on “Let us keep our schools safe.

  1. kesheck says:

    For what it’s worth, this is all true in the U.S., too. It’s part of why I had to get out of teaching. I was beyond demoralized.


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