Baverstock Academy shoes fracas!

This is not the first time young people have been sent home from schools because they do not meet the required uniform policy in some way and I am sure it will not be the last but is it the right course of action to take?

Although a school uniform policy can be beneficial to schools pupils and parents this is only when it is correctly implemented. If it is not, and where changes are made part way through a year then there is the risk of marginalising and disadvantaging both young people and their parents.

The cost of school uniform, particularly for senior school years, is already high with the majority of items having to be purchased from specialist shops. Bringing in a change to the current policy, even with a six week notice period, can cause financial hardship to parents, especially where they have more than one child in that school. If you are going to change uniform policy then this needs to be done sensibly and with due regard to parents and young people.

[1]DSCF guidance stated:

Consideration surely should be given to the timeframe for introducing a new uniform policy or amending an existing one. Factors should include the length of time before the pupil leaves the school and a transitional period for phasing out the old uniform and introducing the new one should be considered.

Where a pupil is not adhering to school uniform policy, a school should be considerate and discreetly try to establish why not. There may be good reasons why a pupil is not attending school in the correct uniform. For example, their uniform may have been lost, stolen or damaged. Sending the pupil home or excluding them may not be appropriate in every case. If a pupil is not wearing the correct uniform because their parents are in financial difficulties, a school should be sensitive to the needs of the pupil. A school should give parents time to purchase the required items and/or consider whether a school or local authority clothing grant can be supplied. A pupil should not be made to feel uncomfortable, nor discriminated against, because their parents are unable to provide them with the required items of school uniform.

In 2010 Michael Gove, the then Secretary for Education for the Tories renamed the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) to the Department of Education and with this change he sanctioned [2]new guidelines:

Pupil non –compliance

Teachers can discipline pupils for breaching the school’s rules on appearance or uniform. This should be carried out in accordance with the school’s Published behaviour policy.

A head teacher, or a person authorised by the head teacher, may ask a pupil to go home briefly to remedy a breach of the school’s rules on appearance or uniform. When making this decision schools need to consider the child’s age and vulnerability, the ease and time it will take, and the availability of the child’s parents.

This is not an exclusion but an authorised absence. However, if the pupil continues to breach uniform rules in such a way as to be sent home to avoid school, or takes longer than is strictly necessary to effect the change, the pupil’s absence may be counted as an unauthorised absence. In either case the pupil’s parents must be notified and the absence should be recorded. If a school is considering excluding a pupil in response to breaches of uniform policy then this must be in line with the legal requirements for exclusion.

Sending young people home, or rather barring young people from the classroom and putting them in ‘holding pens’ (as reportedly happened at Baverstock) until they are collected by their parents is a ridiculous over reaction that undermines any level of rapport and respect between head teacher and pupil and potentially damages the relationship between home and school.

I really do hope that school governors examine this action and revisit their school policy to question if the prescribed treatment of young people is really conducive to ensuring the very best education that they can possibly provide for our young people in Birmingham and perhaps energies should rather be put into the development of a policy and practice around school uniform that removes stigmatisation and contributes to the wider target of the eradication of child poverty and disadvantage.

[1] DCSF – bit.ly/1OuRdvw

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/269113/school_uniform_guidance_2013.pdf

PSPO’s – an extra weapon in police armoury or another way of stigmatising young people?

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Birmingham City Council is the first council in the region to use a public space protection order (PSPO) in a crackdown on anti-social behaviour in Sheldon, Shard End, Gospel Farm in Acocks Green, and Bankside near Springfield.

The order bans:

  • the riding a motorcycle or quad bike “antisocially”
  • Groups of three or more people from ‘engaging in activities which are likely to cause nuisance, annoyance, harassment, alarm or distress’ including vandalism, littering and threats of violence.
  • Alcohol, graffiti and the taking of intoxicating substances
  • The wearing of face coverings in an attempt to conceal identity including scarves, balaclavas and masks

Whilst I agree with some of the banned activities that do create real problems for the residents in our communities like the inconsiderate riding of motorcycles and quads, alcohol, graffiti and drug taking which are real problems across many of our Wards, I have real concerns with some of the other activities banned, and that could have serious consequences for some young people.

Each PSPO creates new criminal offence, which can be punished by an on-the-spot fine of up to £100, or a fine upon conviction of up to £1000 and these offences can be determined by a police officer, a PCSO or by an officer of the Council.

How you ‘determine’ anti social activity is subjective and these PSPO’S could result in young people being criminalised merely for standing in a group or wearing a scarf that covers their face. I wear a scarf that covers my mouth and nose in this cold weather; will I be the subject of a PSPO?

The creation of these unnecessary new offences such as ‘causing an annoyance’ is unlikely to increase young people’s respect for the criminal law or public authority. Such behaviour might merit a telling off, not a fine and potential criminal record. Young people will be stigmatised, stereotyped and labelled.

Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe and whilst on the one hand we are working hard to champion the rights of young people it seems that on the other we are creating more and more rules and laws to control and even criminalise our young people. Drawing young people into the criminal justice system will have long lasting and negative affects and as a council, we must look at other options and other ways of tackling ‘problem’ behaviour.

What have young people done to Osborne to deserve such contempt? | Polly Toynbee | Comment is free | The Guardian

I was going to write about the devastating impact that Osborne’s budget will have on young people but instead urge you to read Polly’s take on it all as she expresses far better exactly what I wanted to say.

Why are the young caught in the cross-hairs of this government? That will mystify future social historians. Most societies talk of them as “our future”, to be nurtured and encouraged, but in yesterday’s budget, yet again they were pursued in a special vendetta of dislike, bordering on disgust.

via What have young people done to Osborne to deserve such contempt? | Polly Toynbee | Comment is free | The Guardian.

What have young people done to Osborne to deserve such contempt? | Polly Toynbee | Comment is free | The Guardian

Missing you already…

Dr Rowan Williams announced his retirement last week after ten years as ‘guardian of the Church of England’, and will be missed by many as an observer, a writer and a great orator.

As Archbishop of Cantebury, Doctor Williams has done much to highlight the plight of those more disadvantaged in society and has not tread too carefully or been too mindful of who he might upset. Of the riots last summer he stated, “Rioting is the choice of young people with nothing to lose” and he used his annual address to focus on the value of young people in our society.

The 61-year-old is no stranger to controversy – from having to deny he backed Sharia Law in 2008, to launching an outspoken attack on the government in 2011 (twice). Williams has had his fair share of media attention.

His politics have led him to clash with the government a number of times, most notably when he guest-edited an issue of the New Statesman last year. Dr Williams used the leader to launch a remarkable attack on the coalition government, warning that it is committing the country to “radical, long-term policies for which no one voted”. Unsurprisingly, this was taken by Conservative MPs as a declaration of hostilities.

However controversial he has been, he has been respected on all sides for his gifts as a ‘preacher of great eloquence and flashes of clarity’. His return to academia as master of Magdalene College, Cambridge might be awaited with trepidation by some but with great excitement by others…

Another Happy New Year?

The first day of 2012…

I am not religious, and do not usually take note of what religious leaders say but I do make an exception to this rule with Dr Rowan Williams (the Archbishop of Canterbury), who I believe, actually gets it… and it was good to hear him use this prime time 5 minutes to further argue the case for young people, as he has already done several times over the last 18 months.

Dr Rowan Williams in his New Years speech referred to the August riots as “horrific”. But he argued that these riots showed us a face of our society we don’t like to think about – angry, destructive, lawless. He sees the riots and the behavior of those young people involved as being one facet of a bigger and much more heartbreaking problem. The young people involved in the disorder on the streets may have looked many, but he suggests, are a minority of their generation – the minority whose way of dealing with their frustrations was by way of random destructiveness and irresponsibility.

He asks us to wonder what kind of society we have that lets down so many of its young people? That doesn’t provide enough good role models and drives youngsters further into unhappiness and anxiety by only showing them suspicion and negativity.

I know what kind of society we have currently. One that is being driven by a coalition government, a government who were not voted into power, but one that has taken it in their hands to change the society we live in for ever. Their actions over the last 18 months show just how damaging their course is and will continue to be.

With over one million young people unemployed, EMA abolished, tuition fees tripled, Connexions under attack and youth services to be got rid of or to be sold off to the highest bidder, it is no wonder young people feel that this government, this society does not care about them.

The Archbishop urged us to recognise how our own actions can make a real difference to society:

“… being grown-up doesn’t mean forgetting about the young. And a good New Year’s Resolution might be to think what you can do locally to support facilities for young people, to support opportunities for counselling and learning and enjoyment in a safe environment. And above all, perhaps we should just be asking how we make friends with our younger fellow citizens – for the sake of our happiness as well as theirs.”

This then, our New Year’s Resolution? To actively support our local youth facilities and opportunities which, he argues, play a crucial part in a healthy society. We must not only fight and campaign for the hundreds of youth clubs under threat as a result of the current government’s policy of austerity, but that we do whatever we can to ensure others are aware of the devastation being felt by young people, by workers as a result of the swingeing cuts being implemented in youth services and other services for children.

This is a truly urgent task we all need to take ownership of before it is too late for our young people, too late for our youth workers and too late for our society.

Watch the Dr here and let me know what you think…