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Vic Goddard – “There’s a link between running down services and the recruitment crisis”

Excluding a challenging student must always be our last resort, says Vic Goddard – but as external support becomes harder to access, the point of no return is getting closer...

  • Vic Goddard – “There’s a link between running down services and the recruitment crisis”

Our three-school trust, the Passmores Cooperative Learning Community, has just had our latest joint training day. We had a great experience with numerous workshops including sessions by @davewhitaker246 and @hywel_roberts for the staff.

Dave is up there with Bill Rogers when talking about behaviour, as far as I’m concerned. Hywel’s session was focused on curriculum and engagement, amongst other things – which led us all to think of those difficult-to-reach young people we have in classes, and what we can add to our teaching repertoire that may help.

Support networks

We all want young people to come to school intrinsically motivated to succeed in their learning; to see the value in education for it’s own sake. However, we obviously know that this is not the case in too many instances, and that we need to find the ‘hook’ that motivates them.

As a profession, I think we are good at discovering what makes our young people tick – be it their love of Crystal Palace or their interest in Dr Who. Yet there are times when engaging them becomes such a job in itself that it takes away from the work needed to support others in the class. For the class teacher, at some point enough has to be enough.

This is the crunch point for schools and for the young people we serve. In my opinion, the easy option is to permanently exclude and to make that young person ‘someone else’s problem’. 

As a school leader, this remains one of the most difficult parts of the job – made harder by the diminishing supply of other agencies able to help those young people that need the type of support that we can’t provide as a school.

Working with young people is the ultimate roller-coaster ride at times. Once you get to know them and their backgrounds, it can become even harder to admit that their attitude to learning has gone beyond what is acceptable or sustainable.

Breaking point

As Rita Pierson said in her wonderful TED Talk, every kid needs a champion. At Passmores, this is manifested by the ‘unconditional positive regard’ for young people that underpins what we do. We have a vertical tutoring system that means that tutors really do travel with their tutees for their full time in school. This has been positive for our school ethos and the relationships between the form tutor and each individual, setting up what I think is a healthy tension between staff that work with each young person.

I have seen on Twitter comments along the lines of, ‘I’m a teacher of [insert subject] and that is what I am here to do, not be a nursemaid’ – followed by the usual, and highly predictable division between two sides both adamantly declaring their opinions to be fact. Of course, the real truth lies somewhere in between.

I became a teacher because I loved a particular subject, as is the case with most secondary teachers, and it’s really frustrating to me when I’m not allowed to try and show others what’s great about it.

That frustration is compounded when I see young faces looking up at me with a similar spark in their eyes – but someone’s stopping me, and them from making further progress. However, this is the point at which the structures and systems embedded in a good school should kick in. It moves beyond simply being a class management issue to a whole school one.

A need for attention

That doesn’t mean that as a class teacher I shouldn’t reflect on what I could do differently – what need am I not meeting in this young person that’s causing them to not engage? Often, it’s a need for attention - and unfortunately, some young people struggle to differentiate between the good and the bad versions of this!

It worries me that as pressures around Ofsted, recruitment and funding become even more challenging, we’ll be forced to simply remove young people by the quickest route. Even more concerning, and in my opinion just as short sighted, is when ‘blame’ is simply placed on the class teacher by an overstretched SLT.  Surely one way to help the recruitment crisis is to retain and improve the members of staff we’ve already got?

I guess my plea is that we must make sure we’ve tried everything, as a whole school, before pushing the permanent exclusion button. Sadly, however,I predict that more and more of us are going to be forced down that route, simply in order to find the support that these young people need.

The government must see the link between running down services that support the most vulnerable young people, and the recruitment crisis.

Follow Vic Goddard at @vicgoddard

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