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  • Author or Editor: Val Gillies x
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Inclusion and Behaviour Support in Schools
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While debates rage about educational inequality and the best way to tackle attainment gaps, a pervasive form of in-school segregation is going largely unremarked upon. Internal behaviour support units have become common fixtures in British schools. Young people may be removed from mainstream classrooms for weeks, months or even years to undergo rehabilitative programmes that incur little monitoring or oversight.

This original book is the first to provide a detailed insight into the politics and practices of internal school exclusion, highlighted through the experiences of the young people attending the units. Ambitious in its scope, it draws on intensive ethnographic research with pupils, their teachers and parents to address broad questions around social justice, equal opportunities and institutional racism. It will appeal to students, researchers and practitioners in education, social policy, sociology and beyond.

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This introductory chapter will begin by documenting the rise of the ‘behaviour support unit’ in the UK in the context of a national ‘standards agenda’ which has played out through an emphasis on attainment scores, exam results and school league tables. More specifically, it will describe how internal exclusion has emerged as a solution for containing troublesome difference in the pressured state school system, with pupils removed from mainstream classrooms with the aim of making them ‘includable’. In many schools internal exclusion units are now explicitly termed ‘inclusion centres’, justified as a progressive alternative to sending disruptive pupils home and isolating them from education. The chapter will briefly introduce the ethnographic study underpinning the book and explain the theoretical framework that forms its standpoint. Drawing on of Pierre Bourdieu’s concept ‘symbolic violence’ this introductory chapter will begin to sketch out how a rhetoric of inclusion overwrites and obscures the lived experiences of young people at the margins of education. A brief overview of the chapters to follow will be provided alongside a description of the structures and everyday practices shaping daily activities within the units studied

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This chapter will provide a full and frank account of how the ethnographic research project informing the book was designed and put into practice. It will constitute a highly reflexive description of negotiating access into the schools, managing institutional dynamics and establishing positive, trusting relationships with students exhibiting challenging behaviour. The chapter will begin by setting the study in context, and considering the motives and assumptions framing the research questions. It will show how shifting meanings of inclusion and exclusion shaped encounters with school staff and became a core focus of the research. The chapter then adopts a critical approach to participatory research ideals and shows how it was necessary to develop new and creative methodological approaches to engage meaningfully with the young people attending the units The chapter will detail how a bird’s eye view was constructed through participant observation in the units, the facilitation of separate long term group work activity with attendees, and interviews with them, their teachers and parents. The chapter will also sketch out some of the fraught situations through which research relationships were forged, highlighting the centrality of emotions to this project and to ethnographic knowledge more widely.

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This chapter explores the characteristics of the young people attending the units and focuses on the particular challenges they faced. Almost all lived in areas marked by high levels of deprivation. Family incomes were generally low, housing was often extremely poor and with some experiencing periods of homelessness. These difficult circumstances were often associated with escape from traumas like domestic violence or migration from war a torn country. A significant number of the students had not spent their early years in Britain and had been forced to adapt very quickly to a new culture and language. In addition the school catchment areas were blighted by violent crime, with spates of gang violence and teenage stabbings directly involving the research participants. This chapter examines how students navigated the social, geographical and environmental hazards associated with inner city London, and how in the process they came to be seen as exhibiting problematic behaviour by school staff. It will show how a contemporary inclusion agenda de-contextualises social and economic struggles, reducing concepts of risk to individual needs and personal problems. In particular the chapter will highlight the way unit attendees were routinely constructed as ‘at risk of being risky’ warranting their segregation and intensive monitoring.

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Following on from the previous discussion this chapter examines how a distinctly gendered discourse of risk orders the understandings and experiences of challenging young people. It will detail how a therapeutically inflected curriculum pursued through the Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning program (SEAL) conceptualised and targeted troublesome behaviour in terms of personal deficit or sickness. For young men, narratives of psychological disorder or damage were commonly drawn on to position them as potentially dangerous. This will be explored through a particular focus on anger, its expression and interpretation in the classroom and its perceived link to gang activity. For young women constructions of developmental immaturity and ‘neediness’ tended to shape their school encounters. Analysis will highlight how the theme of vulnerability was drawn on to trivialise the acting out of girls and normalise socially located difficulties. This chapter will address how these various meanings are deployed through everyday school interactions, and how they are actively managed and or resisted by pupils.

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This chapter looks specifically at how a prevailing rhetoric of inclusion and diversity masks and further ingrains patterns of discrimination and inequality. It will argue that efforts to make students ‘includable’ within a broadly unchanged framework compound existing social divisions and inequalities. It will draw out unprocessed racialised narratives informing inclusion policies, procedures and referrals to show how they result in a disproportionate problematisation of black boys. It will also highlight the extent to which behaviour support interventions sought to compensate for the personal effects of class disadvantage, with therapeutic ideals readily translating into a narrative of personal and family deficit. Building on the previous chapter, it will argue that schools are increasingly positioning themselves as arbiters of the values and identities children need to develop appropriately, with little recognition of the cultural subjugation this encompasses.

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This chapter explores how the prevailing psychologisation of challenging behaviour relies on a construction of inadequate parenting. Home life was cited by teachers’ to make sense of conflict in the classroom and was viewed as an influence to be countered and compensated for through an active process of ‘inclusion’. Accusations of bad parenting will be traced back to specific examples to emphasise the gap between institutional assumptions about family life and everyday lived experience. Attention will be drawn to the often invisible labour parents undertook to address their children’s problems and way particular challenges (poverty, insecurity, homelessness, ill health etc.) shaped and limited school engagement. The chapter will also address the central importance of family to the young people attending behaviour support units. No other theme in the research aroused as much passion or pride. Young men in particular experienced relationships with their mothers as intensely personal and precious and were highly sensitive and protective about their family relationships. The chapter addresses the contradictions and often volatile tensions associated with the invocation of family in a classroom setting and the problematic place home occupies in the current inclusion agenda.

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The focus here will be on how experiences of educational marginalisation frame and inform young people’s understandings of their opportunities and prospects and how administered ‘inclusion’ forecloses a sense of possibility. In the context of financial turbulence and austerity there has been growing anxiety over the high numbers of young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs). The chapter examines how this concern shaped activities in the behaviour support units and how attendees’ hopes, fears and anticipated strategies for constructing a liveable future were often in tension with institutional practices. In particular, the central importance young people accorded to a highly idealised concept of education as a virtuous, but often unattainable pathway will be explored and contrasted with Paul Willis’ classic 1970s study of counter school culture, ‘Learning to Labour’. The chapter will argue that the contemporary drive to diagnose and segregate troublesome pupils has replaced the struggle for symbolic and physical space characterising Willis’s study with a more basic struggle to claim any entitlement at all to educational space.

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This final chapter will draw together all the proceeding themes and take a broader look at the political context framing the rise of in-school exclusion units. Policy initiatives now commonly seek to target and reshape social and emotional realms in the name of maximising wellbeing and preventing social problems before they arise. This ‘screen and intervene’ paradigm is articulated through a rhetoric of support and rescue, shrouding the increasingly brutal and exclusionary practices that characterise policy making in late capitalist societies. The main arguments of the book will be reviewed to show how routine personalisation of socially, culturally and structurally embedded difference pushes disadvantaged young people to the margins of society. The chapter concludes with a discussion of how education professionals might begin to challenge orthodoxies of ‘inclusion’ through a more sophisticated and radical engagement with social dynamics and power relations.

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As the everyday family lives of children and young people come to be increasingly defined as matters of public policy and concern, it is important to raise the question of how we can understand the contested terrain between “normal” family troubles and troubled and troubling families. In this important, timely and thought-provoking publication, a wide range of contributors explore how “troubles” feature in “normal” families, and how the “normal” features in “troubled” families. Drawing on research on a wide range of substantive topics - including infant care, sibling conflict, divorce, disability, illness, migration and asylum-seeking, substance misuse, violence, kinship care, and forced marriage - the contributors aim to promote dialogue between researchers addressing mainstream family change and diversity in everyday lives, and those specialising in specific problems which prompt professional interventions. In tackling these contentious and difficult issues across a variety of topics, the book addresses a wide audience, including policy makers, service users and practitioners, as well as family studies scholars more generally who are interested in issues of family change.

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