The geographies of schools

By Rosa Mas Giralt

BBC2 is currently showing a number of documentaries and dramas under the banner of School Season. The programmes focus on the current education system in the UK and explore issues around schools, parents, teachers and pupils. So far, there have been very interesting contributions such as John Humphry’s documentary Unequal Opportunities examining the reasons why there continues to be great differences between the educational attainment of advantaged and disadvantaged pupils; although completely engaging and illuminating, the programme exposed once more that, without adequate resources and investment, improving the educational opportunities of children from disadvantaged backgrounds is very difficult to achieve. Another absorbing programme was the drama Excluded, which focused on an inner-city school and a pupil who faced exclusion for his disruptive behaviour, showing the complexity of issues that may affect a young person’s life and the difficult task of those in the teaching profession who need to make decisions which can be life-changing for pupils. The season continues and most of the programmes can be watched on the BBC website (for a limited number of days) or they can be downloaded from the BBC iPlayer.

The sub-discipline of children’s geographies has provided influential research aimed at deepening our understanding of the lives, experiences, identities and spaces/places of young people and has foregrounded their capabilities as social actors on their own right. A recent contribution to this scholarship is an article by Barker et al. (2010) in the current issue of Area. This paper explores a new internal space created in some schools in which pupils, who have been temporarily excluded (fix-term exclusions), can be confined, the so called “Seclusion Units”. Using a Foucauldian approach, the authors map these spaces, explore their surveillance and power structures and the possibilities for resistance which pupils have within them. Importantly, the authors find commonalities between the spatial practices of these units and those of other penal spaces such as prisons; this leads them to issue a call for a “moral debate about the desirability of these contemporary educational practices” (2010: 385), a debate which seems crucial.

 Visit the BBC’s School Season website to discover more about the programmes

 Read John Barker et al. (2010) “Pupils or prisoners? Institutional geographies and internal exclusion in UK secondary schools”. Area. 42(3): 378-386

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