It’s been a busy week in edu-world. Some of us finished (at long last) on Wednesday, some of us have a stack of work to do (and, somehow, entertain the kids and the rest of the family, sort the kitchen cupboards out, unpack the last of the moving house boxes, pack for a holiday etc etc etc) left over from the end of term (I reckon at least two solid weeks – I suppose it could be worse, at least I don’t have a book deadline looming), and many of us have been taken up by the Education Select Committee report into the state of exclusions. Personally, I haven’t had time to read it (too much work to do – ah yes, the irony of the DfE publishing guidance on how to manage your workload this week has not passed me by), but I have, in those moments when I have glanced at edu-twitter, caught some of the ensuing Hot Debate.
Exclusion is a necessary act – I’m not going to get into a debate about that – but I wanted to respond quickly to a question that is asked repeatedly, both in person and online: what about the rest?
Of course, as a teacher (and indeed, as a mother), the question of how you balance the diverse needs of the young people in your class (or family), and remain fair and equitable, is one that occupies a lot of thinking (and handwringing) time. It’s impossible to give everyone the same (and they don’t need it anyway), and some children, due to the nature of their needs (often expressed in their behaviour) do gobble up more attention than the others. Any parent who has gone through a medical crisis with one of their children will know this, too. It’s difficult, and there is no easy answer. But, while I might find the question hard to answer in terms of my parenting (there is always a ton of guilt, always, and always the pressure to neglect myself or my husband), the teaching one is not so tricky.
The thing is, you see, that children learn all sorts of things when they are at school. Some of the time, it’s the thing you (the teacher) actually planned for them to learn. This is a cause for celebration. A lot of the time, it’s incidental, messy. They learn to play all manner of playground games that pass, unseen, from generation to generation. They learn how to deal with it (or not!) when things don’t go their way. They learn that it hurts when they run into a pole/get thwacked with a wet football/trip over on a gravelly playground. And, if they have someone different in the class, be that social class, family background, ethnicity or disability, they learn that no one is the same, that people are people and, hopefully, that when there is difference, there is nothing to be scared of, that there are a million different reasons to be kind.
So, when I am asked this question, I remember my son. I remember his 11thbirthday, the children who came, every year, to every party (and told me off with accusatory glances when there was a film and not games), and who greeted the news that he would not be moving up to the same school they were heading to in Year 7, that he would, instead, be going to the special school next door, with shock and disappointment. I remember the way that his teacher contacted me, how she made a special effort, to let me know just how disturbed, how ruffled, were the rest of the class. I remember how, for years, when they bumped into him in the street, they met him with hugs and high fives. How the adults showed the children how to be.
Of course, I am writing about a particular circumstance and a particular person, and, I am sure, people will say, ‘but of course, he’s so gorgeous, it’s not the same’, to which I will counter with a reminder that he is, and was, no angel, no beautifully behaved ‘good’ disabled child. Where Sam goes, disruption often follows.
Sometimes, I think we all need a bit of perspective, a bit of time to sit and think, to reflect on our own personal circumstances and stop making blanket, catch all statements. Somehow, we need to get to a point of agreement, to get to the point where we have the “serenity to accept the things [we] cannot change, the courage to change the things [we] can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Reinhold Niebuhr