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Aluna Behaviour Consultancy Newsletter Number 14, May 2023

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I was fortunate to be invited by the Westminster Education Forum [WEdF] to be a keynote speaker for their conference on 25th April "Next Steps for Alternative Provision". I must confess I hadn't heard of the organisation before, so took the opportunity to 'Google' them and find out more. I was impressed to see the extensive range of their projects, the 16 different forums and the calibre of their speakers; I felt very humbled to contribute to such a wide-reaching organisation. The specific aspect I was given as my brief was the "Over-Represented Groups in Alternative Provision Settings Including Black and Other Minority Ethnic Groups".

This is a subject very close to my heart. Having worked in two local authorities as a Specialist Advisory Teacher for Behaviour, I'm only too aware of the issues around this area and the significant number of children I managed to snatch from the jaws of the much-dreaded exclusions process. My work as Specialist Teacher for Elective Home Education gave me another insight into this problem, with the number of children unwisely removed from schools to avoid an imminent exclusion. 

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I was approached by WEdF in December, so I had plenty of time to collect information, data and reflections from my past experiences - and surely it couldn't be that difficult to gather enough content for a 10 minute speech ... !!

It goes without saying that I over-prepared!! I then spent about a month whittling down my power point presentation and resisting the temptation to add new information to it. Even when emailing the slides a few days before the event I knew it was going to be a challenge. So I went back to my presentation and made notes with the bare bones of the content and a plan to talk as quickly as possible without tripping over my words. Alas, I had to skip over a few of the slides to ensure I was able to conclude with my recommendations as fully as I could. Thus, I've put some of what I'd prepared into this month's newsletter.

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  • Exclusions have always been an issue and don’t solve the problem of very challenging behaviour

  • Settings should develop strategic whole-school approaches to meet children's behavioural needs.

  • The reasons for exclusions are usually:

    • persistent disruptive behaviour

    • violent behaviour to a pupil/adult

    • sexual assault

    • possession of illegal substances/weapon

The Department for Education gives guidance to schools, but the decision is at the headteacher and governing body’s discretion. Persistent disruptive behaviour can be a "catch all", but needs a robust protocol; where it doesn't it creates problematic grey areas. Exclusion has to be a last resort when all other options have been exhausted. The trajectory for excluded children is concerning which is reflected in the prison statistics.

  • The largest groups of children being excluded are Gypsy, Roma, Traveller and Black Caribbean heritage

  • The child pictured was given an internal exclusion because of the heart shape plaited into her hair

  • Settings must be transparent. it a genuine uniform violation or something more insidious?

  • Settings should build relationships, be empathetic and having a better cultural understanding

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When a Black girl is articulate, asks questions, challenges and advocates for herself and her peers, she can be seen as "too sassy for the school"; quoted in a derogatory context from a headteacher I spoke with. Girls with natural styles have told their hair is "too big" and impeding the learning of others. As a Black female the maintenance of our hair is difficult to appreciate if it's outside of your experience. Yet the answers are there, they're within the child standing in front of you; you just need to ask respectfully.

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Settings have a responsibility to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion for all staff and pupils. Young people need support to bring any breaches to the attention of trusted adults and incidents addressed with a restorative approach. It is important to explore how resolution practices work in conjunction with Anti-Racist, Anti-Bullying, Behaviour and Wellbeing policies. The content of some policies are incongruent and cancel each other out, so staff may need to work alongside local authority services - or someone like me!! I have helped settings to draft policies of as little as four pages long that say all that is necessary and are concise working documents rather than unwieldy 30 page tomes that no-one reads. The most user-friendly policies can be read and understood by parents and pupils as well as professionals.

Some GRT Facts: Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month is in June. Few settings with children of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller heritage acknowledge it, yet it's the ideal opportunity to engage with their families from the GRT community.

  • There are approximately 300,000 Gypsy and Travellers in England

  • 20% are officially homeless

  • Approximately 60% live in ‘bricks and mortar’ homes

  • About 20% live on official sites including private or social housing

  • 91% of people have experienced discrimination

  • 77% have experienced hate speech or hate crime

  • The life expectancy is 15 years lower than average

  • 11% of deaths are by suicide

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  • Gypsies: Gyspies are historically an ethnic group of Indian heritage. Most Gypsies settle in the UK and no longer travel.

  • Travellers and Irish Travellers: An ethnic group who may not travel and often there are large communities in UK towns.

  • Romas: Romas are also an ethnic group who migrated from Europe and don’t usually travel once they settle in the UK.

  • Showman’s Guild: They are not an ethnic group and usually own fairgrounds so are travellers by occupation, not culture.

  • Boaters: Boaters are not an ethnic group and are travellers by lifestyle, not culture. They usually live on canal barges.

  • New Age Travellers: They travel but are not an ethnic group. Their lifestyle is often rural, self-sufficient and off-grid.

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Kipling D. Williams, a psychologist, believes ostracism can cause pain that is deeper and longer-lasting than a physical injury. The lowering of the hormone oxytocin, sometimes called the happy hormone, leads to the body registering pain. So the old adage: "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" is a myth. We should be exploring how to address this to prevent the self-fulfilling prophecy: “This is what is expected of me so this is what I’ll do.

 Race is a social construct believed to have been introduced by   Carl Linnaeus in 1735, categorised people from the four nations:

  • American: red, choleraic, stands up straight

  • European: white, sanguine, muscular

  • Asian: sallow, melancholic, stiff

  • African: black, phlegmatic, lazy

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Unfortunately these descriptors:

  • Are perpetuated by those in more powerful positions.

  • Create systemic discrimination psychologically, politically, in employment, medical care, education and social mobility

  • Disenfranchise young people, create scapegoats, cause rebellion and entrench ethnic groups in ghettoised communities

  • Often stereotype Black males as uneducated, workshy, aggressive gang members and engaged in criminality

  • Define Black females may as overly sexualised, promiscuous or as the “big angry Black woman”

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 The true scale of racist incidents is likely to be higher than this.

  • In 2012 schools had no legal duty to report racist incidents

  • In 2017 schools were not obliged to record any bullying

  • 32% of 6 to 15-year-olds experienced racist language

  • 52% were 13-year-olds, a peak in around Year 8

 Positive experiences of inclusion, belonging and representation   constitute fairness for young people. This is a quote from a 6th   Form headteacher:

“I think that probably the hardest thing for me as principal is I always say ‘I'm a white guy in a suit’, and for a lot of our students, a 16 or 17 year old from a Black or Asian background, I can try to relate to them as much as I can. But I will still be a white man in a suit.”

Young Minds published the Someone To Turn To Report  showing how much representation really matters. Settings should examine the social relationships with the adults and role models their young people engage with. 

Children of colour can be disadvantaged from the very start​. This has a bearing on the opportunities for people of colour to access equitable experiences. To enable this the whole of society has to change.

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There has been widespread discrimination against Black girls; much of it relates to the adultification of females of colour, predominantly by the police. We know of Child Q, a 15 year-old girl. She was subjected to intimate strip search at her school in 2020 by a female officer after she was wrongly suspected of carrying cannabis in school. Only much later it emerged that Child Q was searched without another adult present, in the knowledge that she was menstruating and without her parents being contacted.

Four officers have been served with gross misconduct notices in connection with the ongoing investigation. The local child safeguarding practice review concluded the strip search was unjustified, and that "racism was likely to have been an influencing factor”. Child Q has said she can’t go a single day without wanting to scream, shout, cry or just give up”.

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A picture showing De-Shaun Joseph's ordeal taken by witnesses as he walked home from his school with his friends.

There are other cases where Black children have experienced unrealistic expectations of their maturity. De-Shaun Joseph, aged 14 was held forcibly by police officers. They said he matched the description of a robbery suspect of a mobile phone who was a young Black man in a blue hoodie. De-Shaun was wearing his school uniformThe officers handcuffed him and took his phone without explanation before pinning him to the ground. De-Shaun who is asthmatic was held face-down. One officer was kneeling on his legs and another holding his hands behind his back. It was not dissimilar to the treatment of George Floyd; De-Shaun said "I thought I was going to die." A doctor said he suffered bruising to his back and was left feeling traumatised by the incident. Both of these young people have been physically and psychologically mistreated during these incidents of sexual assault and actual bodily harm by the very people who are supposed to protect them. What has been done to provide long-term support if they need it?

The Children's Society published their Youth Voice on Exclusions  Report. It highlighted the following issues:

  • The young people consulted believed their exclusion was attributed to racism, their reputation and adultification.

  • They wanted an improvement in communication about what’s helpful and unhelpful regarding their behaviour

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  • Young people felt a power imbalance and would like their thoughts and feelings to be listened to.

  • They felt disempowered and unable to influence decisions. It is valuable experience to give them opportunities to find solutions themselves and to explore restorative approaches.

  • Many wanted flexibility and individuality as they struggle to conform and situations quickly escalated, leading to a  cycle of behaviour they can’t then break. Young people should be given safe spaces to think and have access to systems where they can start afresh and previous events are not carried over.

  • Rigid systems led to unintended consequences. Young people want genuine connections, where they value the adults they can trust.

  • Young people should demonstrate what they know about behaviour. Educators don't assess the maths that children are taught, they asses what has been learned about maths. Behaviour has to be learned and practised over time, just like an academic subject.

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Children of colour who have special educational needs and disabilities will experience intersectionality, two  or more areas of discrimination or disadvantage at the same time. Many settings don’t have the skills or time to dedicate to necessary opportunities for very vulnerable young people. Services, staff and pupils can gain skills as mentors with the ability to recognise behavioural changes. For these young people, exclusion must be the absolute mental maths.

In conclusion, we should:

  • Collectively eradicate racism in education and explore challenges

  • Have those difficult conversations, listen to and learn from them

  • Regularly updated training delivered by people with lived experience

  • Does everyone in your setting look like you? If so, you're organisation is not diverse!

  • Include people with different lived experience, backgrounds and generations possible

  • Educators should better informed of provide internal support

  • External support, research articles, read charity’s reports

  • Professionals and agencies should collaborate to make community-wide changes

  • Children should learn about citizenship & responsibility

  • The police and other services should be setting targets and being more accountable

  • Specialist youth training, preventative ventures and build trust with young people is needed

  • Professionals should see the experiences people of colour through a different lens

  • There should be more equitable opportunities

  • Don’t stereotype young people; we're all unique and remember to listen

  • Incorporate Anti-racist practice as an integral part of all areas of children’s services

  • Avoid microaggressions and trust the history however uncomfortable it might make you

  • Celebrate the milestones, keep reaching for the next - there can be change!!

  • There are many very successful stories. Do you know some?

Thank you for taking the time to read this newsletter, I hope it has been informative. Please let me know your experiences.

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