The truth of this was illustrated to me recently at a reintegration meeting. A pupil, Joe, let’s say, had been excluded for a fixed term following a major incident, one that had shaken his school’s orderly community.
Joe experienced chronic, toxic stress as a much younger child, impacting on his behaviour. Indeed, he had been permanently excluded from two primary schools and the police were called out to his PRU on more than one occasion, because of his violence in that setting.
He was rescued as a Year 7 pupil by his current Headteacher. And it was a rescue. Imagine the outcomes for this bright but broken boy if the door back into mainstream education had remained shut.
He’s now in Year 11 and meltdowns are rare; years of stimulation and nurture have enabled some significant rewiring and emotional regulation is not the problem it used to be for Joe. However, his terribly compromised early years mean that he will probably always be vulnerable and this episode was a reminder of that. Nobody was hurt in the incident, but someone could have been.
Joe would have been permanently excluded from many other schools, certainly any ‘no excuses’ institution, but the Head’s heightened duty of care would never allow that. The fixed term exclusion was served at a neighbouring school – she couldn’t be sure he would be safe, unsupervised at home – and the ground was prepared for his return.
Obviously, there had to be a risk assessment and there was discussion too about whether Joe might need some additional support during the stressful run up to his exams. This was part of preparing the ground. But it was also important to prepare the village.
The Headteacher held an assembly to talk about the incident. She explained what happens when cortisol and adrenaline flood our bodies, about fight or flight, about the devastating impact of chronic stress early in life. In so doing, she asked for the compassionate understanding of her pupils. And it was given. Because young people like to be respected.
The reintegration meeting concluded with some discussion about Joe’s future in the school. Not that it would be foreshortened should there be a repeat incident. Rather that it might not be extended: the Head’s main worry was that Joe wouldn’t achieve the GCSE English grade required for VI form study, and the science A level she taught. This really troubled her.
“I just don’t think he’ll thrive anywhere else”, she said.