The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that the word exclusion dates from Late Middle English: from Latin exclusio(n-), from excludere ‘shut out’. Shut out. That is what happens when a pupil is excluded; they are shut out of the school. This may be for a set time, fixed term exclusion, or not allowed to come back to that school, permanent exclusion. If a child is permanently excluded, then they are out of school until another place of education can be secured and this may take some time, months in many cases.

Shutting anyone out is a significant choice of social behaviour, and one that can leave adults, who are not included, feeling hurt and upset. So, when we do not let someone “in”, we need to ensure that the process is managed well.

For example, in job selection, all candidates know that they are not guaranteed a job on application. However, feelings aroused from an unsuccessful application can be on a spectrum from a learning experience and a step along a career journey to an utter rejection.

Where on this spectrum unsuccessful applicants are left will be significantly down to the transparency of the recruitment procedure and the quality of its implementation.

Given that exclusion from school affects a disproportionate number of children who come from single parent families, are eligible for the pupil premium grant and/or are on the SEND register, it is crucial that exclusion related procedures are conducted correctly. It is equally crucial that staff responsible for implementing those procedures adhere to the highest possible standards.

As a head teacher myself for 17 years, I can categorically state that no self-respecting head teacher would knowingly make up the rules or behave unprofessionally. However, the education system is under huge pressures. Heads are judged by a highly, fuelled outcomes system, and “heads” literally do roll if results are not good enough. With teacher recruitment and retention in a dire state, budgets pushed to the brink and organisation of the education system divided, lack of support, funding and understanding can challenge even the most inclusive head teachers.

So, in comes the place for Early Dispute Avoidance, a process that aims to keep things as close to the start of the dispute as possible. In highly emotive situations, we need to recognise the pressures on both sides and look for ways forward where acceptable solutions can be found.

EDA is a way of exploring the situation, teasing out how that dispute point has been arrived at and helping all involved to understand that journey from their own and the viewpoint of others. Often, at this stage in the process, a better, shared understanding already starts to emerge and solutions can begin to be discussed.

Having a neutral facilitator can help all sides to reflect far more objectively on how they have conducted themselves and how they want to move forward. It can also rebalance any power scales that may be lopsided through, for example, in-depth knowledge, ability to express themselves clearly, aggressiveness, anxiety or lack of self-efficacy.

External assistance with talking things through can help assist organisations, pupils and parents/guardians to ensure that the best provision has been put in place in order for that pupil to succeed. If they have, then we can support next step discussions to continue to promote success. If they have not, then we can support discussions to plan how they will be.

EDA can be quicker and more cost effective even than mediation. It works best when used as early as possible, even to negate the need for mediation.

Let us “resolve” to do the best for our students. This has to be what is best for individual children, schools and their communities in the short and long term. ASMADR can help you deliver these standards of excellence at very reasonable cost.

Nicole Godetz

Nicole Godetz is highly skilled and experienced at mediating, resolving conflict and building good relationships, particularly with children, staff and families. She is an accredited mediator and brings over 30 years’ experience of working in the education and training sector.