Finding the joy in work

isolation and detention

Part of the luxury of being retired from full-time employment is gazing at job vacancies in a very disinterested fashion. “Can’t see me doing that or that or even that” is the general response whenever any jobs and all other modes of gainful employment appear before my eyes.  However, the job above came at me through my twitter feed and piqued my interest.  What a role! Director of Isolations and Detentions: I mean, how much fun is that job going to be?  If I were to do it, definitely, it would be important to ensure there was high quality isolation and detention.

In Scotland, so far we have moved away from such approaches. We have recognised that building relationships is a more successful way to sustain those positive learning environments or as many use to call them – schools. As a result our young people do demonstrate those four capacities of Curriculum for Excellence. No more so than when they participated in the referendum about the future of Scotland with the extended franchise to 16 and 17 year olds.   We have moved on.

We stopped belting children and young people in schools in 1982. To be fully accurate we stopped belting working class boys who were the primary (and secondary) recipients of this reminder for good behaviour.  Identity matters not just in attainment gaps.  The survey below was conducted in a survey of school leavers in 1977. It is quite marked who was being belted.

Tell Them From MeSince then we have transformed our schools from punishment regimes to more supportive, inclusive spaces where positive relationships are at the heart of practice. Accompanying this transition has been a shift in the well being of young people and following that improvement their behaviour and relationships with others.

Such improvement has been achieved through better understanding of the pressures on teenagers, the developments in neuroscience and adolescents and progress with the climate and relationships in schools as well as nurturing ethos and settings in schools.

The OECD (2015) noted the positive attitudes towards schools from young people in Scotland.

Positive attitudes and connections

Scottish students hold relatively positive attitudes towards schools and what it has given them compared with their peers across OECD countries as a whole. Around 8 out of 10 students said they did not agree that school had done little to prepare them for life (well above the OECD average), and more than 9 in 10 did not agree that school had been a waste of time.

At least three in four Scottish students surveyed answered positively when asked whether they get along with their teachers, whether teachers take students seriously, and whether teachers are a source of support. More held positive perceptions of teacher-student relationships in 2012 than in 2003.

Young people in Scotland report high life satisfaction. Most Scottish adolescents (87%) said that they were highly satisfied with their lives, this being largely stable since 2002.”

More than that though the OECD recognised more positive behaviour among young people in Scotland

“School and risk behaviour improving in Scotland

The proportion of 15-year-olds who reported drinking alcohol on a weekly basis dropped sharply from 43% in 2002 to 14% in 2014. Nearly a quarter of Scottish 15-year- olds were smokers in 2002 but this had dropped to 14% in 2014. Over two-thirds of Scottish teenagers judge that their school provides them with advice and support regarding smoking, alcohol consumption and drug use.

Staff assessments of behaviour in Scottish schools have been high since the mid- 2000s; with low-level and serious disruptive behaviour both considered to be in decline. Even so, unauthorised absenteeism is above the OECD average in Scotland.”

As Scotland has moved away from punishment regimes in schools, the number of children and young people subject to exclusion from learning has significantly decreased. In 2006/07 there were 44,794 exclusions and by 2014/15 this had decreased to 18,430, a fall of about 60%.   It’s unlikely to be a story appearing soon in a mass media outlet about working class boys no longer needing to be hit neither will we hear too often that our young people are more responsible citizens than adults, more confident individuals, better at effectively contributing and learning more successfully in so many ways than the adults who lecture them.

There is evidence of a better behaved generation than ever. The Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice in their “Youth Justice in Scotland” notes the significant decline in youth crime.

“Since 2006-07 there have been falls in those convicted of an offence in court across all age groups, although the change is more marked in the youth population (under 18) compared to the adult population (18 and over), as shown in Figures 7 and 8 (Scottish Government, 2013a). In addition, it is notable that, in the same time period, the number of under 16s with a charge proven in court has fallen by almost three-quarters (74%), which meant that there were only 34 young people aged under 16 who were prosecuted and convicted by a court in 2012/13.”

It is further noted that

“… almost 90% of young people in custody in 2013 reported that they had been excluded from school. One 17-year-old young man in Polmont said ‘People like us get excluded and end up in Polmont’.“

Rather than isolating and detaining our kids we need to engage better with them, have higher expectations of their behaviour and learning while respecting their rights and supporting them to exercise their rights as responsible citizens. More innovation in our curriculum and wider work across councils to provide more tailored pathways to realise potential rather than be detained and stare at a wall all day by yourself.

Incidentally as we, in Scottish education, move to academy trust style of clusters of schools outwith local council control, there would be nothing to stop such posts appearing in Scotland sometime soon. Again, I’m not interested.

Some references

Educational exclusion and inclusion – Common themes from the Improving Life Chances Group

Exclusions dataset 2014/15


Out of site, out of mind?

Tell Them from Me, Gow and McPherson Aberdeen university Press (1980)

Youth Justice in Scotland: Fixed in the past or fit for the future? Lightowler et al, CYCJ, 2014