Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Transform schools or exclude students
Lady Marie Stubbs
Last Saturday our local paper ran an editorial about the problem of ‘classroom rebels’ based on the latest figures on expulsion from the countries schools.
These figures showed that 1200 students under the age of 16 had been banned nationwide so far this year because of ‘out of control behavior; in 2004 the total figure was 1432.
The editorial raised the question about what such exclusions do the youngster’s future and, as well, what the growing problem means in terms of teacher retention. With regard to students, the editorial quite rightly said that expulsions will lead to 'future disasters waiting to happen'.
As to what could be done to get the students ‘back on track’ and to remedy the situation the editorial suggested, early intervention, student counseling and education for ‘problem’ parents. Without such intervention, the editorial suggested there is little schools can do but bar the students.
Nothing in the editorial suggested that secondary schools themselves might be part of the problem – all the ‘deficits’ seem to be with the students and their parents.
On Sunday night TV One a play, 'Ahead of the Class', based on the true story of how Lady Marie Stubbs turned around a notorious school in South London was shown; this school, no doubt, had more than it's fair share of suspended students; the previous principal had been murdered by a pupil!
The play faced up to the challenge of ‘turned off’ learners that face too many of our secondary schools. And it also faced up to a staff who had accepted that the problem lay with the students. Lady Marie came with an unshakeable belief that all students can learn, given the right conditions, help and time. She worked hard to change the relationship between the students and their teachers and built on the strengths of both. Most of all she involved the students in the task of reclaiming their own school.
Her beliefs were challenged to the point of despair but she persisted and eventually created a positive learning environment for both students and staff. As much as education of parents and early intervention might help, Lady Marie showed that any school, with the will and imagination to work together, can solve the problem of ‘disengaged’ students.
Students have a right to be accepted as individuals, their ‘voices’ to be recognized, and educational programmes tailored to suit their needs and talents. Schools need to look hard at their current structures and organizations to see if they can do more to accommodate their less academic students. Anyone who has been to a secondary school will see that they have changed little over the years. Perhaps the time has come to‘re-imagine’ our secondary schools.
It would be interesting for a reporter to follow one of the less academic students around a school for a day? They might work out why so many students ‘disengage’! Time drags for those who are not touched by the lessons provided. Even successful students learn to fake interest!
All students need to be accepted as important in a true learning community and as yet few schools have realized such an environment. Schools ought to provocative, memorable, and enjoyable for all; a place where students see the point in what they do. All young people were born with a desire to learn and talents to develop. Those who have lost this desire, for whatever reason, provide teachers with their greatest challenge. Our mass education system needs to needs to transform itself to represent the student's future not our past; more of the same is not good enough! We cannot afford to give up anyone; it is a race against time.
If our schools are not transformed we will continue expelling students and creating demoralized teachers.
Perhaps there are some practices that need to be excluded rather than blaming the students?