The author is a teacher. Joe Baron is a pseudonym.
Vincent Uzomah. Have you heard of him? If you haven’t, it wouldn’t be a surprise. Apart from one small unremarkable news bulletin, his recent stabbing at the hands of a disgruntled pupil at Dixons Kings Academy in Bradford has been largely ignored, even though it should serve as a belated wake up call for a complacent profession and an indifferent public.
According to the most recent figures available, there were 17,190 fixed-term exclusions for physical assault on an adult and 50,630 for threatening behaviour towards an adult in 2012-13. Only 920 pupils, however, were permanently excluded for similar offences during the same period.
What do these disturbing statistics tell us? Well, not only do they highlight the fact that violence in our schools has become a mundane feature of everyday life. They also, on closer inspection, elucidate the reasons why the phenomenon is so widespread.
Every year, tens of thousands of children either threaten or assault their teachers; yet the vast majority are allowed back into school after a fixed-term exclusion. Only a tiny minority are permanently excluded. The number of exclusions permitted, moreover, before a permanent exclusion is issued, is infinite.
So where is the disincentive? One could argue that these violent pupils are, in the main, being granted a short holiday for attacking a member of staff, before being invited back to resume their education. There is no deterrent. On the contrary, there seems to be a perverse incentive actually to be violent.
I suspect these statistics only represent the tip of a rather large iceberg. Many schools, including mine, do not even issue fixed-term exclusions for violent behaviour, especially if the perpetrator pulls on the Head’s heart strings with a hard luck story which divests him or her of any meaningful responsibility. Don’t forget, we live in an excuse-making, relativist epoch in which rules only apply to the already advantaged. In addition, schools are reluctant to use such penalties lest they attract Ofsted’s opprobrium – a very real possibility. So you could perhaps double these figures to get the real picture.
In short, schools should permanently exclude violent, threatening pupils – without exception. If they did, we would unquestionably see a reduction in physical abuse, threatening behaviour and a concomitant reduction in fixed-term exclusions in consequence. Eventually over the longer term, as children realise and understand the full consequences of their actions, we would also see a reduction in permanent exclusions, too. The current reluctance to issue exclusions of any kind is paradoxically fueling their growth. It is incredibly self-defeating.
And let’s not forget the lost opportunities and human misery behind these statistics. Pupils are forced to share their classrooms with unrepentant thugs, and teachers are expected to enthusiastically support the unsupportable. We are not only the abused, the ones on the receiving end of these violent outbursts, but we’re the individuals accountable for the progress of these children tool. Yes, we’re still responsible for their results, even though they’re unmanageable and, in many cases, uncontrollable.
It’s nothing short of a scandal. Apparently Teach First has recently offered psychological support to its new recruits. They are finding the profession intensely stressful, by all accounts. I wonder why…they are being subjected to regular verbal and physical attack; they are unsupported by their senior leaders, the Government and their unions; and moreover, despite these considerable obstacles, they’re still expected to teach with gusto and secure the expected progress of their young charges, even the naughty ones. For the life of me, I can’t understand why they’re finding things so anxiety-inducing, can you?
Look, we need to wake up to what’s going on in our schools. Uzomah’s fate may be rare, but it’s an extreme example of the violence that many teachers face, in many schools, on a day to day basis. Teachers have truly become the twenty-first century equivalents of nineteenth century factory workers. Where are today’s indignant, impassioned social reformers?