It Takes A Village To Raise A Child

Teaching and caring walk hand in hand.

If you and I didn’t care for and about children we wouldn’t voluntarily go through the troughs and peaks of despair and joy, as carers, parents, teachers.

I’m here, you’re there, we’re everywhere, teaching and caring.

The first glimpse of The Village, through the mist.

This week I met Jarlath O’Brien for a chat. In case you don’t know him, he’s the head of a Special School in England. We’d met once before in passing but this was the first time we’d put our heads together.

We recognised each other in the same moment, at the entrance to the coffee shop. After accepting his kind compliment about my arriving on time and offering Jarlath my thanks for keeping me in mind and making this meeting happen, we found a hot drink and a place to sit.

How do you start a Village meeting?

I’m always curious to know what hopes people are bringing with them to a meeting and I asked Jarlath what he hoped might come out of our conversation.
He answered with a quizzical look.

‘Why, have you got something in mind you want me to say?’
‘No. It’s exactly the opposite, I’ve got no idea what you might say. It’s a real question.’

He said it could be about feeling lonely at times and doing something about it by making an effort to meet people. He and I had been in contact through Twitter, I lived in South Wales, he was coming to the area, we could meet.

As we talked about loneliness and contact, we found common ground. We were both working towards a future where ‘no excuses’ was replaced by ‘no exclusion’, and we’d both been working at it for years with notable successes. For me, over the last year I’ve been training school staff in Lincolnshire and exclusions are falling. For Jarlath, he’s the head of a special school where exclusion is not an option. We knew we’re not alone in our hopes but both of us felt the tug of isolation, working with children who are often marginalised, in marginal spaces.

We got straight to the heart of the matter, teaching and caring, the troughs and the peaks.

Jarlath spoke about the gaping hole at the centre of behaviour policy and management and into which the most vulnerable children often fall. He said he that our mission to close the gap and stand up against the rising wave of exclusion and segregation might be hopeless in the face of raw power and celebrity.

I disagreed. I felt that while the army of excluders talks with a loud voice, a quieter but no less determined community is getting on with the practical work of teaching and caring, holding the calm space all children need to be fully included and maybe sharing a sense of loneliness too. This work is demanding and doesn’t leave much time for banner-waving.

That’s where the idea of #ITAVTRAC comes in. It takes a Village.

Just suppose we made contact with one another, built a solid community, shared ideas over a hot drink in the Village square when we met, developed theory out of our practice and expanded our practice as the theory grew. What might happen then?

The past is past. The only thing that matters is what you choose to be now. Kung Fu Panda

Government figures show that the of exclusions started to rise in 2012/13, following a sustained period of falling numbers, as specialist support services were deleted and the policy of exclusion and segregation was reinforced by Government and its advisers.

5,795 children were permanently excluded in 2014/15 rising to 6,685 in 2015/16, equivalent to over 35 children losing attachment to their home school every school day.
1,185 permanent exclusions were of primary school students. Of these 475 were children under seven, 50 were children under four.

303,000 fixed term exclusions (2014/15) rose to 340,000 (2015/16).

The biggest increase in Primary was in the under fours, from 2,350 in 2014/15 to 3,035 in 2015/16.

25,000 children under seven were fixed-term excluded with 15,000 primary exclusions for what is termed physical assault, with no description of the needs of these children, only of their behaviour.

These numbers aren’t innocent. Each 1 excluded represents a child stripped of pride, of their sense of belonging, their feeling of self-worth, because everyone knows they’ve failed, they aren’t good enough. That goes for their teachers, committed to the care and growth of children and forced into the rejection of the very ones they know need their full support. And the hurt extends to the wider community too, of their carers, their families, all those down the years trying to correct the consequences of exclusion.

Meanwhile, the DfE wheels out the banner with ‘every child (should) have access to a good school place where they can learn without disruption and feel safe’ and ‘permanent exclusion should only be used as a last resort’ blazoned across it. The Atkinson (2013/4) reviews and Lenehan review (2017) speak about the harsh reality of institutional failure in place of headlines.

Care and safety are intentionally put at risk with 50% of students who are permanently excluded having a diagnosed mental disorder, the actual figure being “closer to 100 per cent” because many excluded children slip the medical net.
10% of all children (5-16) and 20% of adolescents experience a mental health problem in the general population. In contrast 50% of mental health problems are established by the age of 14 and 75% by age 24.
70% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age, but many are permanently excluded from school. (IPPR Report)
The Prisons Inspector has just reported that secure young offender units, with many children detained there having special needs and having been excluded, are 100% unsafe, failing in basic provision where they should be providing the best in education and attachment. And a third of today’s adult prisoners were excluded from school.

Hope into action

When I posted a tweet about The Village idea this week normally quiet twitter space came alive. It’s true, we’re already a community!

My best hope is for a Village Gathering next springtime when we can meet, swap stories and make plans. Before that I hope we can begin to build the virtual Village by making contact, as many of you have done already, talking to neighbours, posting messages on the Village Noticeboard, share successes.
For a start maybe you’d be kind enough to use my website to make the first connections by commenting on this post.


hashtag: #ITAVTRAC

Next post; A story of success