Not so very many years ago, the answer would have been the routine use of corporal punishment – in the form of an official caning or, more frequently, an informal clip around the ear. When physical encouragement of this sort was thought inappropriate, detention and ‘lines’ were possible alternatives.
Canings – and indeed physical punishment or even restraint – are now things of the past in our schools. This is as it should be, but teachers can be left puzzling over what to do with that minority of their charges who simply cannot be controlled.
Today’s penultimate sanction is suspension – the ultimate being expulsion. The most unruly are simply removed from situations where they are liable to do most general damage. However, as a Scrutiny sub-panel led by Deputy Trevor Pitman has concluded, suspension can mean that those excluded are denied the understanding, attention and help that could lead them to modify their behaviour.
The sub-panel has, in fact, concluded that the present schools suspension policy is so flawed, and presumably in such general use, that it is failing students and their parents, and failing them badly.
The trouble is that even if the sub-panel’s conclusion are substantiated, the removal of suspension from schools’ limited list of remedies for particularly bad behaviour would, in extreme cases, leave them with no means of imposing the control necessary for effective teaching.
Welcome though Scrutiny’s efforts to highlight what appears to be a highly significant problem must be, it is questionable whether the spotlight should rest solely on suspension. Too much use might be made of this measure, but it is clearly only one facet of a wider issue – the general problem of discipline in our schools.
In comparison with the trouble endemic in some inner-city areas of the UK, conditions in our classrooms no doubt pale into insignificance. That said, if standards are sliding, now is the time to address the problem.
Ideally, the Education department should be able to show that it has fully thought-out policies calculated not only to produce conditions that are uniformly favourable to learning but which also tackle the problems of those who can all too easily be rendered out of sight and therefore out of mind by over-reliance on exclusion.