Ending violence starts with believing in our students

Political debate in the capital has squarely turned to the recent increase in violent crime, and as a teacher in London I feel it is important to throw in my two cents. Inspired by the advice of a friend, and the post of a drummer, I’m going to take a slightly different approach and focus not on the problems but the solutions.

  1. Understanding the educational journey of many of these children.

I have very little knowledge, like many of us, of the exact circumstances around the recent violence. But, in general, we know (both historically and currently) that students excluded from school are much more likely to offend. See, here, and here. However, what we don’t know is, once excluded, the quality of education at their alternative provision as many children are being sent to independent providers. Philip Nye, of Education DataLab and Kiran Gill, of The Difference, are trying to better understand this and this will be crucial.

2. Strong Discipline in schools

This might be a surprising thing to point to as the solution but this must be the response to the increase in the number of schools that send students out of the system. They key, however, is what is ‘strong discipline’ in schools? Is it what we normally think it is? I define it in two ways- empirically in terms of outcomes, and then, from that, in terms of its key characteristics.

a) Strong discipline in schools is the ability to retain a diverse intake such that all engage in learning.

b) Strong discipline in schools has negative features- the lack of disrespect and disorder in classrooms, but also positive features- students trust teachers and teachers express belief in children.

In terms of evidence, a) might be shown through a low number of exclusions, high attendance and so on; b) might be evidence through more qualitative things. I know I’m in a bad school if you can’t find a teacher that talks positively about the children, their abilities and their future. This might be explicit ‘our students don’t know how to control themselves’. It might be implicit ‘we need to have these routines because these children come from disordered homes.’ These kinds of statements are, in my view, not indicative of good behaviour management, they indicate a culture of low expectations for the children, disrespect for the community, and crucially, a willingness to exclude the child before reflecting on the practices of the school and the teachers.

If we are going to fix the exclusions problems in schools we need to fix relationships between pupils and teachers in schools. No single measure can achieve this. New OECD research that compares different school systems suggests that a strong ‘disciplinary climate’ is key to transforming the outcomes of students from more challenging socio-economic backgrounds- but don’t misread this. The research doesn’t define strong disciplinary climate as silence in the corridors and unthinking compliance in the classroom, it is much more complex than that. They point to two things across schools that have a good disciplinary climates:

– Lower teacher turnover.

– Extra-curricular activities.

– Strong leadership.

They point out something else that is interesting. How many teachers do you know that say they would love to stay in the state school system but want to ‘teach at a higher level’? Well, this report shows that as teacher turnover goes down, academic standards and expectations rise. So here is my final solution:

When more teachers stick around and get to know the kids, they learn what they are capable of.

 

 

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