Of late, the issue of school exclusions (1) has been very much in the news. My recent article (2) on this subject looked at the exclusion process in the context of one individual case but there are some wider ramifications. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how mediation and its close relative, the facilitated meeting, can assist all of those involved in individual exclusion processes and help to ensure that robust but fair decisions are made, something that will benefit everyone.
Particular concerns have been identified in two recent articles published in the UK Guardian newspaper.(3) Citing statistics published by the Department for Education (DfE) the first of these articles confirms that the number of children permanently excluded from primary, secondary and special schools in England increased by about 1000 between 2016 and 2017. Secondary schools were identified as accounting for more than four out of every five permanent temporary exclusions with the bulk of these accounted for by “permanent disruptive behaviour”. In the 2016-17 school year there were 7700 exclusions which equates to more than 40 permanent exclusions per day. Many will see this as a very significant figure which according to sources quoted by the Guardian can in part be attributed to such considerations as cuts in funding.
Describing such figures as “deeply concerning”, if not a “national scandal” the second article reports that “a significant number of children who ought to be in school are left to their own devices”. As in the first article, concerns are expressed about government policy which is said to place too much emphasis on achievement in a narrow range of subjects.
Particularly when it comes to attributing “blame” reports such as these are likely to divide opinion, possibly along political or social lines. However, whatever the underlying issues, 40 exclusions per day is a significant figure that needs to be addressed. All those affected namely schools, head teachers, parents and children are often unsupported and have to deal with and make sense not only of some potentially complex legal provisions but the related logistical considerations and practicalities. As is partly demonstrated above, exclusion of a particular child does not mean that there will necessarily be someone else to pick up the pieces. School places, particularly in those deemed “good” schools are at a premium and whilst in some instances a “fresh start” may be a good idea, a new headteacher who is asked to “pick up the pieces” after an exclusion may lack the resources, not only to integrate the affected child but to understand what may or may not have been done at a previous school.
Particularly in cases where there has been a serious assault, an instance of knife crime or some form of racial incitement and a child victim is at serious risk, exclusion may be the only answer. However, because the current exclusion appeals system tends to look at matters after the event and focuses very much on the issue of blame, the temptation can be to take the exclusion route without full consideration of the issues.
Assuming an appeal is first taken to a school’s Board of Governors and then to a local authority, the process can become both expensive and protracted and divisions may be reinforced. Because of the emphasis on blame, apologies and atonement may only be considered as afterthoughts. In mediation, such issues can be considered right upfront before any final, drastic decisions are made.
In the circumstances, timely, inexpensive intervention in the form of mediation of a facilitated meeting by an experienced external professional can prompt a more detailed appraisal of all the attendant issues in individual cases. In some instances, it may even prompt a rethink but if not, it will at the very least demonstrate that individual headteachers have conducted matters fairly and will help convince local authority appeals panels that all possible routes have been properly explored.
Mediation and facilitated meetings are not “escape routes” for recalcitrant, possibly violent children and their parents. Even though confidentiality will be maintained, headteachers will not ultimately be precluded from calling in external specialist help or in some instances notifying the police.
It is difficult to envisage mediation in a school exclusion case being “a win-win” but as is demonstrated above, it can result in early, very cost-effective intervention. Mediation and facilitated meetings can be of enormous benefit in all aspects of day-to-day school life such as disciplinary issues, parents’ complaints, employment tribunal claims and admissions disputes. However, I suspect that one of the greatest contributions that it can make is in cases of pupil exclusion.
(1) The Wikipedia article on the subject provides a helpful outline of the school exclusion process https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expulsion_(education)
(2) #Educational #Mediation Jane and Emily, A Case of “If Only” or “Should Have Gone to…” -An address to head teachers and school governors everywhere https://www.asmadr.co.uk/?s=IF+ONLY
(3) https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/sep/04/the-rise-in-school-exclusions-is-a-result-of-the-education-market AND https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/jul/19/sharp-rise-in-pupil-exclusions-from-english-state-schools
Principal Director of ASM PLUS, civil/commercial, workplace, employment, family and educational mediator and trainer with a judicial/legal background. He has knowledge and expertise in dispute resolution in a wide range of areas and disciplines and mediates online.