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Why are so many unruly city pupils being sent home?
THE facts seem to speak for themselves. Many could be forgiven for concluding that Southampton’s schools are packed full of England’s most unruly teenagers.
Even a notoriously tough London borough such as Tower Hamlets and Salford in Greater Manchester recorded fewer exclusions.
And a close examination of Department for Education data reveals the reasons why pupils are being suspended.
According to the latest figures, for 2011 to 2012, in Southampton the sanction was passed on 41 children for drugs and alcohol, nine for sexual misconduct, 42 for bullying and 22 for racial abuse.
But these figures represent a small percentage of suspensions and are comparable with most of the nation’s schools.
Southampton’s teachers are mostly suspending pupils for old fashioned bad behaviour.
The prime cause is swearing and verbally threatening a member of staff.
For this some 482 teenagers were dispatched home for a period.
Then there is hitting other pupils, with 351 pupils suspended.
The third major reason is persistent disruptive behaviour which saw 387 excluded for a spell.
So has discipline broken down in the class room? Not quite.
Further analysis of the data shows that Southampton permanently expels fewer than the English average, despite suspending the most pupils.
Then there are the historically high top grades in GSCE and A-level results that just keep on getting better.
And the fact that Ofsted inspectors have rated many of the city’s schools as good or outstanding and have detected no major behaviour problems.
But how does all this square with the fact that the city is suspending more pupils than anywhere else in the country?
The answer to this conundrum, say head teachers who spoke to the Daily Echo, is rather than losing control of the classrooms, teachers in Southampton are taking control.
Like the perception among some that exams are getting easier, there is the view that teachers are getting softer.
But not in this city, says Jason Ashley, head teacher of Redbridge Community School, which school inspectors judged as outstanding. And that includes the behaviour and safety of its pupils.
Mr Ashley is also chairman of Better Outcomes for Southampton Students, a forum for head teachers and the local authority which aims to tackle bad behaviour in schools.
He believes that many head teachers in the city are no longer tolerating yobbish behaviour.
“I would be confident enough to say that exclusion rates are higher here because we take a tougher line,” he says.
In particular, Mr Ashley loathes pupils swearing at teachers, whom he believes have the right to work without falling victim to verbal abuse and he detests classes being disrupted.
He said: “There are red lines that they [pupils] should not cross.
“I think sometimes low exclusion figures can give an impression that schools are turning a blind eye and not taking on bad behaviour.
“In terms of the values of my school I will not accept that.
“We take a tough line. You can’t have excellent teaching and learning and have children disrupting lessons.”
This year has seen the Millbrook school sustain its record-breaking results from last year, with 52 per cent of pupils gaining five A* to C grades, including maths and English.
Ewan Scott, head teacher of Chamberlayne College of the Arts, which this year saw 92 per cent score A*- C in all subjects, said: “Zero tolerance comes at a cost.
“If students continually fight the system in whatever school they are in, then of course schools are often only left with the final option of fixed term exclusion.
“In my experience, it takes a lot to generate the exclusion because schools will have tried multiple strategies before they get to that point.
“Usually each school, as is my case, have a small hard core of multiple exclusions and a much larger group of once is enough to correct the problem.
“Finally, and perhaps a bit provocatively, is there a link between the increase in fixed-term exclusions and the increase in results in my school and across the city?
“Without a doubt, children at Chamberlayne love the fact that poor behaviour is tackled and that exclusions are used.
“They articulate with us and people like Ofsted, that it then allows them to get on with their work without being disturbed.
“They state it allows teachers to teach better lessons because they are not having to deal with poor behaviour all the time.
Jonathan Curtis, deputy head teacher at Cantell, said the decision to temporarily exclude a child from school is never taken lightly and is always a “last resort” or in some cases the only course of action.
He said: “Schools have extremely high standards of behaviour and work tirelessly with students, parents and all members of the community in nurturing and developing positive behaviour.”
He added that the school’s own use of temporary exclusions had fallen in line with an improvement in behaviour, attendance and exam results.
The local authority too is keen to point out that schools are not simply washing their hands of disruptive pupils or else the permanent exclusion figure would be much higher – not well below the national average as it is now.
A Southampton City Council spokesman said: “As happens everywhere, a small proportion misbehave and all our schools have policies that support children to improve their behaviour and have a range of sanctions should they be needed.
“The severe sanctions of fixed-term and permanent exclusions are used sparingly but are sometimes felt necessary by the schools.
“It is not that the schools are taking a ‘no tolerance’ approach.
“If that was the case the permanent exclusions would be much higher and schools in Southampton work very hard to avoid permanent exclusions.
“If the permanent exclusion rate was much higher it is quite possible that there would be significantly fewer fixedterm exclusions.”
He added that if the statistics were set out in terms of days lost per pupil through exclusions then Southampton would not feature as above average.
That said, the spokesman added the authority did not wish to be at the top of the league table and that they would be working with schools to support children to avoid any exclusion, fixed-term or permanent.
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