Teacher Talk

Jonathan Sen, 28, is the deputy head of a pupil referral unit in Islington, north London, which provides for pupils who have been permanently excluded from mainstream school
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The Independent Online

What is the most important initial strategy in forming a relationship with pupils excluded from mainstream school?

What is the most important initial strategy in forming a relationship with pupils excluded from mainstream school?

The important thing is to offer each pupil a fresh start. Clearly their experience of education so far has been largely negative; and the attention that they have received from teachers has largely been in response to poor behaviour. Whether justified or not, a pupil excluded from mainstream education feels marginalised and left with a sense of great injustice and low self-esteem. It is vital that their preconceptions are challenged - that teachers actually do want to hear their opinions, that they can be rewarded for positive behaviour (and receive more attention because of it) and that they can be valued in a classroom and school - if they are to successfully reintegrate.

What is your view of the teaching strategy of isolating badly-behaved pupils?

From the point of view of someone working outside mainstream education, it's just not successful. It fails to identify that these pupils might have varying needs, so you find a pupil who has been a school refuser next to a school bully, which creates a dynamic that makes it extremely difficult to progress. You find pupils who may be able to return to mainstream education - for example, because they have learnt strategies to counter special educational needs - learning behaviour from those who have been permanently excluded for very serious reasons. More specific help is needed than simply grouping those with learning difficulties together with pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties, in the hope that the same strategies and environment will suffice.

What can parents do to help if told by the school that their child is bullying others?

I would first just ask them to listen. It's one of the hardest things to have to discuss with a parent, and I'm sure it's tremendously hard for them to hear - but it's a issue that teachers really need the support of the parent or carer on. It's certainly not something I would speak to a parent about until I had as much information about the incident as possible; if I do have to, however, then from that point it's vital that we work in partnership so that every pupil involved can have a successful and positive experience of school.

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