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Misunderstood, Misinterpreted and Mismanaged

Voices of Students marginalised in a Secondary School

Lucy Wenham

This ethnography gives a voice to a small group of students who are required to spend time in a school withdrawal-unit away from the mainstream classroom setting, most commonly following a period of sustained low-level disruption; students who all too often feel that their voice is not heard. What emerges through the telling of their lived experiences, is the breadth and diversity of ways – from the blatant to the inadvertent, the miniscule to the looming, the inter-personal to the structural – through which they make sense of their tangled, intricate, oftentimes deeply-individual marginalisation, as they navigate schooling day-by-day. Structural issues of transition, ability groups and pathways are seen to fuel marginalisation, as are aspects of classroom practice, such as behaviour management policy enactment or the choice of pedagogical approach. Teacher-student relationships matter hugely, as does being known, respected and understood. Individual factors also play a role, with special educational needs, mental health concerns and family breakdown, all feeding into engagement and attitudes to school. Taking the experiences of these students seriously, the analysis shows that what is actually needed to tackle the assorted, messy, multi-dimensional nature of such lived marginalisation, is a radically comprehensive education system structure, with the social at its heart, where critical pedagogy is embedded classroom practice.