Of course we should keep our troubled kids at school. Most would agree that the best place for kids is to be at school. We all know that much of the youth crime is committed by kids who are not actively engaged in meaningful, well supported educational courses.
The judge says schools should be well-resourced for this to happen. That is where the idea of keeping the said kids in school falls down. Most schools try their utmost to engage with the students who are falling through the cracks; be it their attendance, behaviours or issues they bring from home. They give students ‘second, third, fourth—you get the picture--- many chances. They provide counselling, youth support and social workers to work with families (In decile 1-3 schools). There are teacher aides (an undervalued and underpaid resource) and special programmes to enhance student learning.
In many schools absenteeism is a scourge. I well remember our last principal continually saying that ‘if you attend regularly we can teach you.’ However, with absenteeism rates often running at 18% plus in many schools you can see that there is a huge problem. If students are not in school it makes their learning problematic. It also ‘steals teacher time,’ from other students when these students return or attend intermittently, because of these behaviours. Their behaviours fuel a classroom environment that is not conducive to effective and safe learning. They ‘don’t know what is going on and fall further behind their cohort.
Teachers are a resilient group of professionals, but they are worn down by the behaviours that students bring into school. As an institution we are not always able to change the home situation that our students come from. We try to engage with families and we are often part of initiatives like ‘Strengthening Families’ to bring together all of the agencies who may be working with a particular family. Despite these programs, we are still losing ground in many ways.
The Youth Court Judge was correct in that we are in need of more resources to help change the outcomes for the students who have often been excluded. Teaching does not occur in a vacuum. It needs a working relationship with the family and when needed, support agencies. If that partnership is effective, then there is a chance for the would-be-excluded students.
The resourcing the judge was talking about needs to happen with the agencies and within the school. In the current climate of ‘cost-cutting’ I feel less than confident that we can attain this wonderful aim of retaining the students who are most at risk in school.