So, are we getting it right yet? It would be heartening to think that, after the decades of research, conferences, recommendations and policy documents, that we are finally getting it right in relation to reducing black exclusions.
The national statistics, however they have been gathered, have over the decades produced results that range from: groups such as African-Caribbean boys being six or more times more likely to be excluded than their contemporaries; to the current three times more likely. (DCSF:2009).
Analysis of the causes tends to be polarised: black family structure/lone parents; racism; negative peer culture; etc. The proposed solutions, at face value, seem at times disarmingly straightforward. Indeed, I have advocated some myself: more training and cultural awareness for teachers and associated professionals; statistical monitoring of exclusion rates; best practice guides etc. Nonetheless, one is understandably compelled to ask, if solutions are so straightforward, why it is that after so many decades, are we still not quite getting it right?
Another approach running in parallel is to extrapolate and build on the evidence of instances in which we are getting it right. The success of many supplementary schools and community-based organisations is a prominent example (BTEG;2008). Not only have these been instrumental in supporting the raising of black achievement but this strategy has also helped, in some instances, to reduce black exclusions and, in others, to provide academic and social support for those who have been excluded.
The above strategy highlights that in ‘getting it right’, we will need to focus on what happens in and out of schools and classrooms.
Many supplementary schools are getting it right with and without the financial or other support of their local authorities. Likewise, research evidence, statistical returns and wider intelligence gathering reveal that some schools are getting it more right than others in relation to exclusions. While schools have reported challenges in attempting to reconcile the need to meet national benchmarks and to reduce exclusions within a period of acute workforce recruitment issues, some schools have had no exclusions over a period of years. The characteristics of the ‘zero exclusion’ schools is an area which would benefit from further study, with a view to wider dissemination.
One could argue that the readiness with which statistics are increasingly available is an indicator that we are moving in the right direction. How that information is acted upon, so that more schools are ‘getting it right’ is the important factor.
While my own work and that of other contributors to this debate has highlighted the need for fostering more effective engagement between schools and parents, there is a perspective that in relation to black exclusions, the parents - particularly ‘absent fathers’ in African-Caribbean households - and their children are the ones who should be ‘getting it right.’ Simultaneously, mothers, fathers and young people report the challenges they face and, let us remind ourselves, many overcome, in their attempts at ‘getting it right’. Are we getting it right yet? What do you think?