18 March 2024

The Monday Briefing: Guilty by Association

The Monday Briefing - Guilty by Association

‘It takes a village to raise a child’ (African proverb)

Empowering Inclusive Community - the three word ethos of Ealing Independent College.

By the time students leave us, and move on - usually to university - we want them to have a deeply ingrained sense of this.

They should leave us feeling more composed, more confident and self assured than when they join.

They should leave us with a greater perception of tolerance for others, with an increased sense of fairness for all.

They should leave us with a firm grasp on the importance of how a positive environment can truly develop everyone within it, how shared values within this can make a monumental difference to lives, and how each and every one of them has a positive part to play in that.

I was able to see this first hand last week in the enrolment process of a student, who had been undergoing a two-week trial period at the College.

His previous educational experience had not been a positive one, and he came to us in need of direction, support and guidance.

Many schools, when looking to potentially take on in-year joiners, either decide not to do so - in a sense, shutting up shop with the intake from the start of the year - or provide a very short trial - perhaps a day or two - to see if the student would be a good fit.

The first approach, often driven by a fear of extra work in terms of preparation, or the potential upsetting of the apple cart, simply could not coexist with our inclusive nature. 

The majority of in-year joiners who come to the College are students for whom something has gone wrong. That something which goes wrong could happen at any point in the year, be that bullying, a rise in anxiety or perhaps a falling out with a friendship group. We simply have to be receptive to students who have identified the College as a potential school to satisfy their needs, provided we have places, so that their academic progress can continue in a new, more suitable environment pastorally.

The second approach needs to be handled very carefully. 

The one or two day trial, to my mind, is simply not enough. The tendency is that students can try too hard over this time. They could be on their very best behaviour, perhaps giving an inflated set of expectations around how well they will do. 

Two weeks gives them the chance to truly ‘live’ the College routine, building consistent attendance, completing homework assignments and assessments, and one can get a true picture of their abilities over this time.

Two days would, very likely, see minimal interactions amongst the peer group. 

Two weeks allows friendships to grow, whether positively or negatively, and one can see whether they will be an enhancing addition to the community or not.

Two days is like a weekend break, where the student is, in a sense, a visitor. 

Two weeks is more like an extended stay. It allows students to settle and feel comfortable - and allows their natural performance level to show. This, then, makes clear whether they will be right in terms of enrollment.

It is not just that we take our time over student enrolment - we are also extensively forensic when reviewing a trial period. Not only are all staff asked to provide full and frank feedback in terms of student progress, conduct and integration with College rules, but we also speak, in depth, with other students. By doing so, we are able to truly investigate the granular details of how a student would contribute to College life on every level. If it is right, then great. If it isn’t, then it goes no further. The option to extend the trial, should the evidence be inconclusive, should always be retained.

During the two week period, this also gives a chance to perform some due diligence regarding the student, with contact made with the previous school, references sought and the context of the move truly understood. Often, this due diligence brings up some difficult questions.

Have the potential enrollees been fully truthful about why they wish to join, and the reasons behind it?

Have the potential enrollees shown remorse for what has gone wrong at their last educational experience, and they now wish to atone for that in order to truly start anew?

Have the potential enrollees simply been ‘guilty by association’, where they have gotten into a bad friendship group and suffered because of that - or were they the principal instigators of the issues which arose at their last school?

It usually does not take long for the truth to come to light - as a rule, more than two days, but less than two weeks. 

And every decision around whether we can help a student or not should be given the fullness of time. Every student deserves that.

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