ЗAhra Bay has worked as a teacher in London schools for almost two decades when she began to see education in a new light. She began her career as a business research teacher in high school and was quickly promoted to head of the department. She loved to teach, loved children, but over time began to notice changes.
Bay arrived in London alone at the age of 16, leaving her Somali-born mother at home in Italy. She went to college, studied at BTec, went to university, then got a PGCE and started teaching. It was a huge personal achievement and she felt “really proud” of herself.
The work was difficult, the hours were long, and Bay also raised a young son, but over the years she noticed a shift in the way students and staff were managed. “We have started to notice that the policy of behavior is starting to shrink. You would have a long corridor of children sitting alone at these tables, bored with their heads, ”she said.
Schools in England are increasingly adopting a so-called zero-tolerance policy, where violations of the school code of conduct can lead to children being taken out of classrooms and taken to a separate area where they work alone, in silence, away from their peers. Critics say isolation can be detrimental not only to a child’s education but also to their emotional well-being. Proponents say such measures are very important so that the rest of the class can study without interruption.
But for Bay, her school was beginning to look more like a corporation than the community she joined. “You just feel like that’s not what I signed up for. And I remember giving notice one day, without another job. “
This was the beginning of Bay’s journey to No more exceptions (NME)a social movement with a focus on racial justice in education, which she helped found in 2018. Its mission is to highlight persistent racial disparities in school exclusion and to end the policy of excluding children from English schools, as well as to develop anti-racist teacher training and curriculum principles.
Ever since Bay first began noticing these changes in schools, the level of disconnection – both temporary and permanent – has risen sharply in England. Permanent exclusions in England rose from 5,082 in 2010/11 to 7,894 in 2018/19, while even in 2019/20, during the Covid and Blockade, schools still managed to exclude 5,057 children.
The period of exclusion or suspension reached a 13-year high in 2018/19 with a total of 438,265, down to 310,733 as a result of a pandemic disruption. Racial disparities are serious: in some local governments the exclusion rate of black Caribbean students is six times higher than that of their white peers. a recent Guardian analysis.
Although many in the education sector are concerned about exceptions, the NME’s position is more radical than most of those who argue that some exceptions will always be necessary in the most extreme cases.
Bay began working with children outside of secondary schools in 2007, first at the New Arrival Center, mostly for refugee children from Afghanistan, Yemen and Romania, but also placing several local children at risk of exclusion. Today, it could be called an alternative institution that serves children who for various reasons can not attend regular school.
“These are kids no one wants to teach,” Bay said. Many were 11-year-olds who schools were reluctant to take on because it lowered GCSE scores. “As a migrant, I felt connected to these children,” she said.
She remained for three years before moving to the Student Referral Unit (PRU) for children who have been expelled from high school or at risk of being rejected. Many of the children in the PRU were black, with undiagnosed special educational needs and disabilities. Many could not read and write properly and they felt ashamed and stigmatized for it. “Yes, the behavior was difficult. There were definitely chairs flying there, and that’s not a metaphor. But something kept me there, ”said Bay, who taught business, citizenship and Spanish.
“There was a lot of anxiety among the children. Like, “I’m rejected.” I recognized this and said, “Well, I’m not buying your bullshit, I see it through, and I won’t let you go.” And I know that even though they pretended they didn’t care about school, they didn’t care.
“Many of the children I taught at PRU were certainly neurodiverse, but those needs were not met as such. Instead, we had a route of conduct. As many as 80% of them – and maybe more – were dyslexic, autistic, dyspraxia and needed extra help with reading, but did not get it. And that’s why we let them down, and we keep letting them down. “
She spent 10 years, but at this time began to doubt the role of the PRU and whether there should be children. “It was like a pen,” she said. “It was my 17th-18th year as a teacher, and I’m a little ashamed to say that it was probably the first time I really looked at education critically, through the prism of social justice.
“It took time for a penny to fall and I left – what about their human rights?” And what about their access to science labs, to the gym, to consultants? All that would be the main children? “
The PRU underwent a restructuring, and Bay remained to study for a Master’s degree in Social Justice and Education at the Institute of Education at University College London. She has since battled racism and social injustice in education. She is now working on a PhD, and her studies have served as a clue to the NME’s efforts that have been established around her kitchen table, with the help of some of her former students who have experienced the injustices of the education system.
“I was just tired of hearing that my students were in jail or died,” Bay said. “I do not shy away from reality. Their realities are very harsh. Schools are a protective factor in the lives of children and young people. You remove the protective factor and expose them to various risks. She cites a case from Tashon Erd, 15, who was killed in Hackney, London, in 2019 after he was permanently disconnected and sent to alternative support. “What we have at the moment doesn’t work. Can we at least agree that it doesn’t work? ”
Thanks to the work of the NME, among other things, the problem of exceptions and the damage they cause has become relevant on the education agenda, and there is growing pressure for change from parents, teachers, unions and public figures, including the former Commissioner for Children in England Anne Longfield. In addition to raising awareness and campaigning for changes to the exclusion law, the NME also reveals sources of advice and advocacy for families affected by the exclusion.
“Unfortunately, we receive emails from desperate parents every week,” Bay said. “And when I say ‘desperate,’ I mean desperate – I say, ‘My child was excluded, my child was isolated.’ I have to go to a meeting and I don’t know how to talk to these people. I feel that the decision has already been made. ” Since Child Q, she adds, the gateways have opened.
In March, it was revealed that a 15-year-old girl known only as Baby K ‘, was searched during her period police were called to Hackney’s school after teachers said they smelled cannabis. For many, the incident was a testament to the racism that has affected black students in England’s schools. For Bay, this revealed how schools could end up conspiring with criminalization and cartelism.
“Many of us can’t handle anger,” she says. She is worried because of the police in the schools, because the schools are giving up their security responsibilities and adult black children.
“Personally, I have decided that I will not be in the classroom until things change. I am almost in arbitrary exile. What we want to see is responsibility, and we want to see change. ”