‘That was a huge problem for my whole life that I was associated with my brother and sister’: Courtesy stigma and inappropriate use of internal exclusions

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When marketization in education increases, the focus of the education system becomes ever more detached from concerns of equality, leaving the way open for instances of marginalisation to increase. Within neoliberal education systems, marketization and competition are endemic and this brings with it the invasive pressures of performativity. Against this backdrop, discipline in schools is, in many instances, being more closely monitored and tightly controlled, with the implementation of strict and in some cases ‘zero-tolerance’ behaviour management policies. Can this emphasis on compliance and control feed into greater educational inequality and marginalisation and if so how?
This paper elucidates one mechanism through which the enforcement of behaviour management policies fuels marginalisation - namely through inappropriate use of internal exclusion procedures, through labelling by association with siblings. This emerges as part of a wider study into marginalisation in secondary schools in England.
The overarching ethnographic study sheds light on marginalisation, by giving a voice to side-lined students. The student participants have each at some point in their secondary schooling, spent time outside the mainstream classroom setting, working instead in an on-site withdrawal unit, usually following a period of sustained low-level disruption. The research is drawn from semi-structured interviews, with participant observation and some small group teaching by the researcher within this unit. With ethical considerations in mind, initially volunteers were sought for interview. This subsequently lead to snowball sampling, which in the final stages was complimented with some theoretical sampling. The data was scrutinized using constructivist grounded theory techniques specifically including elements of free-writing, coding, memoing and diagramming. In particular, use was made of deeply embedded low-level diagramming for increased rigour. Resulting processes emerging from this analysis of the data were then identified.
Analysis of emergent processes suggests that students encounter many barriers within the secondary education system. One such barrier is labelling by association with siblings. This emergent process is situated at the nexus of three potential sources of marginalisation - one relating to the over-zealous and inappropriate implementation of strict behaviour management policies, another concerning long-term impacts from a difficult transition and the third pertaining to the impacts of labelling and courtesy stigma.
Through poignant first-hand telling of his experiences, one marginalized student in particular exemplifies and illustrates such labelling by association with his siblings and its consequences. He is adamant that this indelible association with his brother in particular marked him out and stigmatised him, with very real and profound consequences for his educational trajectory or ‘moral career’, as well as for his permissible learner identities. Despite not falling foul of any behaviour management policies, there was a fear that he may be a troublemaker like his brother, so he spent a lengthy period of time in internal exclusion, kept away from the mainstream classroom - a clear inequality of experience.
The current predilection for strict discipline in schools, will likely fuel rather than diminish the instances of internal and external exclusions, leaving the way open for misuse of such processes - including through labelling by association with siblings. In order to tackle such instances of educational marginalisation and inequalities, several avenues can be pursued. Confronting issues of teacher stereotyping, labelling and labelling by association with siblings is one route. This is crucial, yet like all prejudice is heavy with inertia and slow to change. A more tangible, immediate first step could be ensuring fair and appropriate application of existing behaviour management policies. Going a step further would likely consider a return to a more nuanced approach to behaviour management; perhaps with a restorative justice slant, or with a greater emphasis on the social and affect. It is worth emphasising that such a move would be more likely to succeed if it went hand-in-hand with a reversal of other neoliberal in-roads into schooling. The shift towards an emphasis on greater enforcement of stricter behaviour management policies, arose in lock step with greater marketization of the overarching system. To attempt to unpick or reverse particular behaviour management policies alone, would not remove the context that gave rise to them in the first place. A more wholesale diminishing of marketization of the education system is worthy of thoughtful consideration.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 13 Apr 2021
EventBERA Annual Conference 2021 -
Duration: 13 Sept 202116 Sept 2021


ConferenceBERA Annual Conference 2021


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