The news of the weekend was shaped by the story of the Prime Minister’s special adviser, Dominic Cummings, and his long trip to Durham during the closure, which he reasoned at least in part as follows:
The rules make it clear that dealing with young children can be exceptional circumstances, and I think these were exceptional circumstances.
I suspect that I am in the majority if I do not consider this an acceptable interpretation of the rules. Given that I feel no particular hostility to Cummings and can easily imagine other extraordinary circumstances that I thought would make his actions acceptable, I think carefully about what the problem is.
This also led me back to many debates about rules in schools, in which the subject of exceptions has surfaced. When you hear some people talking about the evils of the “no excuses” or “zero tolerance” behavior guidelines, you might think that there are schools that make no exception to the rules at all. It is more common than it should be to hear that people who do not normally work in schools claim that a rule against letting children go to the bathroom means that children get dirty and a rule against letting children out the room when they say that they feel sick means that it is normal for children to sit in class and throw up in a bucket. I don’t think these claims describe a school at all. I think, if anything, there are far more constituencies of people involved in education always Make exceptions and justify almost every rule violation as something a child cannot help. I could probably scold for hours about the most ridiculous excuses for breaking the rules that I’ve heard from both children, and depressing at the kind of adults who believe that children should be freed from adult authority.
So how do we differentiate between valid and invalid rule exceptions?
Here are some considerations.
1) Does the exception make the rule meaningless?
If a particular exception to a rule makes the entire rule meaningless, it is not a valid exception. This may seem obvious, but schools often have rules that the exceptions make pointless. If your break is to keep children away from a school building unless they have a reason to be inside, you’ll quickly find that the only children who have no reason to be inside are the ones who don’t notice have that they are not. I’m not supposed to be in the building.
If you have endless chances before a sanction is imposed, the rule “don’t do X” can quickly “do X as many times as you want until a teacher tells you to stop”. If a child’s behavior is not confronted because it reacts poorly to the confrontation, it can mean that rules are essentially guidelines that must be followed by the choice.
2) Is the exception really exceptional?
Regarding the last point, the sheer number of exceptions can make a rule pointless. The rule “nobody leaves the lesson” becomes pointless if there are exceptions for medical reasons that are reported by the user. In a school where I worked, I taught a large class in which a quarter of the students had a medical reason to leave the classroom to go to the toilet signed by a staff member. After I reported this to the director of the year and he made it slightly more difficult to get a permit without recent contact with the parents or, in serious cases, with a medical reference, it did not immediately fall to any student at all.
Much of the debate about strict rules and special needs takes place in this category. There are people who use a variety of SEN as a reason that a child does not have to follow rules or that certain rules should not exist. Many people argue that the term SEN alone was a reason not to follow the rules, although in some cohorts 44% of the children (51% of the boys) were classified as SEN at some point in school. Of particular concern are those who begin their claims “Children with autism cannot …”. Given the nature of autism and the different children with autism, these claims are practically never true. A special need should always be something special and an exception should always be exceptional.
3) Is the exception obvious and uncontested?
One thing that always surprises me about debates about strict rules is the willingness of some people to believe that schools will not make obvious exceptions. Oddly enough, schools that have the rule that students get up when an employee enters the room do not punish a wheelchair student for not following them. Schools that encourage eye contact when greeting an employee cannot be expected to displace those whose SEN may make this difficult. And those who claim that anti-abuse screaming rules discriminate against Tourette not only don’t understand schools, they also don’t understand Tourette’s. It is questionable how clearly the school rules have to say: “This rule does not apply in exceptional circumstances.” I can only imagine one case in my two decades of teaching where no obvious exception was made (and that was a member of the support staff , not a teacher who refused to make it), but we could probably postpone the behavior debate a lot if everyone could admit that obvious exceptions are made over and over, and the controversial piece is over when we do stop Make exceptions.
4) Have “non-routine decisions” been considered?
A child has a medical notice saying that they should go to the bathroom. They use it every Thursday afternoon, usually as soon as they receive written work.
A child is examined for autism. Their records clearly state that they cannot cope with being shouted at and go out. They go on a lesson when they are told clearly that they need to continue working.
A child uses a homophobic term that is no longer used to refer to a friend these days and is eavesdropped on by an employee. When they are told that it is homophobic, they are shocked (strangely, they usually have to hear this from their friends, not just from their teacher) and it is clear that they did not intend to be homophobic and agreed on what they said unacceptable.
In all of these cases, it can be considered at least for a moment whether the normal procedure is appropriate and / or whether follow-up measures are required later. I almost used the term “hard calls” in this section, but I’m not sure if all of the situations described above are “hard” for the experienced teacher. They are simply not the kind of routine judgments that teachers make without thinking and forgetting a second later.
It should be the case that a teacher who makes a non-routine decision has thought it through and can explain it. This may even require delaying the final decision or making a preliminary decision. I think this is against the rules. I will look into it before being detained. “It should be the case that schools make situations where this additional thought is necessary as rare as possible by ensuring that the rules are clear and well understood. For this reason, it is important that people involved in creating the rules interpret them in an unexpected way.
5) Have “controversial decisions” been reviewed by the appropriate people and have clear instructions been given?
If, despite some considerations, a teacher is still not 100% sure whether he is right in his decision, what his decision should be, or even if he is confident, but believes that a parent could contact the school for that Get Reason for a Decision It’s best to speak to someone else. First, it becomes clear that the teacher is aware of the problem. You made no mistake and then tried to cover it up. Second, this could reveal more information or even a better understanding of the rules that solve the problem. Third, this means that if it is ultimately decided that the decision is wrong, not being personally hung up to dry, it is the responsibility of the school to get it right. The other side of it is that if a teacher’s decision is wrong, he should be informed immediately and the reasons for it clearly explained. I left school because it was normal for teachers’ decisions about sanctions to be overridden without the teacher being informed or managers declining responsibility for what they did from teachers.
I hope these are useful considerations of rules and exceptions in schools. As an exercise, I leave it up to the reader to decide whether one of these points also applies to Dominic Cummings.
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