Joel Davidson is a school governor. He is a former councillor in Brent and was the London Assembly candidate for Brent & Harrow in 2016.
Of all the dissembling and disingenuous statements uttered by Sadiq Khan during his depressing term as London mayor, one of the most troubling has been his recent assertions that the knife crime epidemic is somehow linked to an increase in permanent exclusions. This is a cynical and irresponsible move, and yet another deflection from his woeful record of tackling knife crime in London.
I’m the Local Authority school governor at a North West London comprehensive school which is attempting to improve standards across the board for the benefit of all students. I have sat on several permanent exclusion panels. I am staggered and appalled by Khan’s inference, which is that permanent exclusions are somehow a cause of later criminality that could lead to an increase in knife offenders. There is so much ignorance in that statement that must be addressed here.
In every case that I have come across, permanent exclusions are made after a period of serious reflection by the head teacher and as a last resort. They are usually after a pattern of bad behaviour from the pupil, and after the school has gone to extraordinary efforts to work with the pupil in question to try to improve their behaviour.
The exclusion process itself involves the head teacher and other senior teachers spending an inordinate amount of time carefully compiling a full dossier of evidence to support the decision to exclude.
In addition, I have yet to come across a permanent exclusion case where the child’s continued presence would be anything other than detrimental to the overall harmony of the school.
London is facing a crisis of teacher retention, with nearly half of teachers quitting the profession within five years. One of the major reasons for this is the terrible pupil behaviour which teachers are often confronted with.
Below is an example of just one anonymised excluded pupil’s behaviour towards teachers and fellow pupils on separate occasions, over a period of merely two months:
- “Aggressive behaviour, fighting and low level assault”
- “Disrupting behaviour, kissing teeth at teacher”
- “Not following instructions, repeatedly disrupting others”
- “Extremely disruptive, throwing a football at other pupils”
- “Disrupting lesson by appearing in the wrong lesson”
- “Talking over me when class was listening”
- “Eating in class, dropping litter under the table”
- “Told the teacher to shut up”
- “Threw and kicked a chair in class”
- “Abused teacher, asking how did you become a teacher”
These are merely some examples; the list of bad behaviours in this case goes on and on. Would any other profession expect their trained staff to continue to come to work when they are being disrespected, sworn at, or even physically assaulted at their place of work on a regular basis? Of course they wouldn’t, and teaching is no different. I have yet to see a permanent exclusion case where the pupil involved has not regularly exhibited aggressive or threatening behaviour to their teachers. It is therefore essential that schools must act to support hard-working teachers by demonstrating that the institution in which they work has a zero tolerance approach towards abuse of their staff.
Furthermore, exclusion is not the end of the road for the excluded pupil. Far from being left on the scrapheap and ushered into a life of violent crime, Pupil Referral Units actually offer a far more appropriate level of support and intervention for the excluded child, beyond the limits of what a mainstream school should be expected to offer.
It is this essential principle which Khan’s words blithely dismiss; all children benefit from a harmonious school with a positive environment and clear standards of tolerated behaviour. This is the only way to create life chances for young people in London and across the country.
Sadiq Khan should care about all schools in London offering the best possible education to all pupils. Instead, his comments only succeed in undermining the efforts of teachers to do their jobs.
Khan should focus on his day job, in which he is badly failing, and support rather than undermine London’s teachers.