Time for Zero Tolerance?

Such policies are characterised as having set responses to behaviours with no exceptions, no context and no excuses. This week’s call for zero tolerance of an alleged racist action suggests that the accused guilty party should have been dismissed, and that nothing short of that action would have been enough.

The Equality Act 2010 recognises nine protected characteristics. I can’t see how we can tolerate discrimination against anyone on the grounds of any of these characteristics – we cannot accept or tolerate sexism, racism, faith discrimination, disability discrimination, discrimination on the basis of nationality or due to family structure, age, pregnancy or sexual orientation. Not against a member of staff, a pupil or any other member of the school community.

But if by ‘zero tolerance’ we mean to dismiss automatically then we are wrong.

  • Does the seven year old who uses a (clearly offensive and unacceptable) racist term get automatically permanently excluded?
  • Do the two nine year olds who exchanged insults about sexual orientation also get permanently excluded?
  • Does a child in Year 6 get permanently excluded after using language that was insulting to those with a specific disability?

Permanent exclusion is the pupil equivalent of dismissal for a member of staff – so are we to go straight to that level of sanction?

In our behaviour policy – here – we already state that we have a zero tolerance approach, but with context and a consideration about how we can both protect individuals while teaching appropriate behaviour. The policy states, ‘every behaviour should have a response, but this response should not be prescribed’. We do not accept racism is ever acceptable nor tolerable and so we will always respond swiftly and fully to any allegation.

This is where I will start in the review – by looking at whether we do always respond fully and appropriately, whether sanctions applied are proportionate and appropriate, and whether victims feel protected from the process. If any member of the school community does feel that they can set prescribed sanctions that should be consistently applied in response to all given behaviours, I would be happy to receive that input.

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