Guest post by Communities Empowerment Network.
Shortly after the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993, a theory emerged relating to the perception of racism from differing cultural and community perspectives.
White people will look at Stephen’s murder with disdain and disbelief, whereas Black people will look at Stephen’s murder believing that this could be ‘my son’ or ‘my brother next.’
Parallels can be drawn with educational exclusion insofar as White families hope that exclusion will not disrupt their child education or life chances while Black families looking at the same situation hope that it doesn’t result in a prison sentence or long term unemployment. From the cradle to the cage is a prophecy haunting many BME parents.
From the age of four, children are aware of differential treatment motivated by race. A few years later the same children become aware of their visibility – and the subsequent surveillance preceding various forms of punishment.
Examining the wider context for pupils from ethnic minorities (predominantly young Black men) identifies a wider array of dangers; stop and search, gang culture, the post code war, weapon crime as well as harassment by store detectives and other authority figures all contribute to providing a consistently oppressive and complex system of power and control.
Years ago I was told by a Deputy Head teacher that ‘schools are microcosms of society,’ therefore (we can project that) learning settings across the country will for many reflect an unequal and unforgiving wider world.
Educational exclusion begs comparison to the stop and search agenda, its misuse, lack of outcomes and impact on public confidence. Pupils punished for behaviours consistent with special educational needs, diagnosed or otherwise additionally disadvantaged through lack of adjustment to the curriculum, thus rendering it inaccessible, could mirror the fact that 66 from a total of 270 underground stations in London that are step- free accessible.
Many parents feel that their children experience alienation even before they are excluded by Euro/Christian-centric curricula as well as school staff and governance unrepresentative of their communities. Some parents feel forced to to home educate or ‘repatriate’ their children – choices wrought with obvious challenges.
Society’s glass ceilings are reflected through under representation of BME personnel in the education sector, evidenced by 0.7% Head teachers are from a Black African/Caribbean ethnicity despite these ethnic groups making up 2% of England’s population. There are just 30 black male and 127 black female head teachers in this country’s 21,600 state schools; one in every 125 heads is a black man or woman. (Guardian 21 April 2011).
Capturing the essence of advocacy I created a platform for some of the parents I have worked with to provide their opinions and share concerns ;
• It hurts, when an establishment has already made up their minds & written off your child. Even worst when he is branded as a failure and depleted in confidence & self-esteem.
• The child loses confidence in the school disciplinary system and ultimately becomes despondent.
• Children concerned end up losing their confidence, losing respect, and losing their friendships at school. They eventually end up lost in the system.
• Our children feel that their school life has come to a premature end. They feel there is no one out there to listen to their side of the story, angry with their parents and the education system.
• Sadly, most schools tend to ignore our children’s cries for help manifesting in their behaviour; and compound the disruption of our children’s education.
It is not only the proportionality of exclusion but the proportionality of the consequences of these sanctions that demand equal consideration.
Emotions and self-perception
It is not uncommon for an excluded pupil to become depressed days after exclusion. Pupils are confused by the removal of school structures which disproportionately affects pupils with SEN
An already fragile self-esteem is vulnerable to being compromised and an inability for children to effectively comment on the exclusion process further compounds feelings of uselessness and disempowerment.
Often pupils will internalise their feelings and concede to the labelling that led to exclusion.
The Family Unit and Relationships
Breakdown of family structure through the additional strain and occasional severance of family bonds are not uncommon symptoms of school exclusion, creating an impact on a family’s employment and wider activities creating obvious frictions .Parents often blame themselves and disillusionment with institutions causes self–exclusion, an overlooked but inherent from of marginalisation.
Educational exclusion can familiarise pupils with other forms of polarisation in the form of unemployment, homelessness, drug use and the aforementioned potential for criminal activity.
Limited or timetables paired with vocational programmes are often offered by alternative provisions following permanent exclusion reducing the amount of obtainable qualifications affecting post sixteen and further educational direction.
The cycle of educational disadvantage is unlikely to be broken until community-led models that organise, inform, and mobilise parents to take pivotal roles in leading school improvements.