Unintended consequences

But, oh, to get involved in the exchange
Of human emotions
Is ever so, ever so satisfying
Bjork – Human Behaviour

Another weekend, another Twitter spat about behaviour.  However this time we are dealing with the most abhorrent thing most of us could think of; the death of an unborn child due to the actions of another child (age not known).

Nobody could deny that the case being discussed was terrible.  In fact, nobody disagreed with the fact that this was a tragic event, with far reaching consequences.  However where the conversation diverged was with the responsibility of the employer to provide a safe working environment:

Employers have duties under health and safety law to assess risks in the workplace. Risk assessments should be carried out that address all risks that might cause harm in your workplace.

http://www.hse.gov.uk/workers/employers.htm

So, in this case, did the employer fail?  Was a person put in harm’s way, with a potentially violent student, against all common sense?  Sometimes we need to look beyond educational research to find the answers we are looking for.  Arguably the first duty a school has, as an employer, is to provide a safe working environment for its staff.  If we are failing in this fundamental human right then we are in a system that is inherently broken.  Secondly a school must provide a safe environment for children to learn in.  However we don’t know the full facts in this case so it is unfair to pillory anyone for asking questions.

What is the answer then?  One thing that was raised at the weekend was the age of criminal responsibility.  I firmly believe that if we want the behaviour situation to improve in schools then we should be using the full weight of the judicial system at the point a child becomes responsible for their actions in the eyes of the law.  This may be a radical thought but it would rapidly change the educational landscape; no more exclusions for violent behaviour, simply the involvement of the local constabulary and the Crown Prosecution Service.  If we want our children to become responsible members of society then we have to teach them what it means.  This includes the penalties for transgression.  It’s not about exclusion, isolation or detention – it is about criminal behaviour and legal consequences.  Maybe we would then see more of a cause and effect situation in which people could be held responsible for their actions?

But to go back to the behaviour for a moment, what prompted the child to lash out?  Every day, in every classroom, we make thousands of tiny interactions with young people.  Sometimes we get it right, but on some occasions we must get it badly wrong.  Whilst not excusing the violence it is important that we do look for a cause.  If the ultimate aim of our judicial system is to prosecute, incarcerate then rehabilitate is that then too heady an aim for our education system?  We talk of “instilling British Values” so should this not be the most fundamental one we look at – the idea of commit a crime, do the time?

As teachers we are involved with young people in the most formative years of their lives.  We must develop our ability to help those children, who for whatever reason lash out at authority.  Maybe gaining an understanding of them would aid us to stop the outbursts, to reduce the tension in our classrooms and de-escalate the situation before the violence happens?

Of course this could then lead to investigations into the provocation of children to prompt exclusions but that’s an argument for another day…

 

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