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What It Looks Like When We Bring Abolitionist Principles Into Our Schools

Waterloo Road is not often heralded as an exemplar for abolitionist praxis but during the opening of season six, headmistress Karen Fischer modelled an important lesson about what behaviour management really is at its heart. One of her first policies was getting rid of “the cooler”. The cooler was where pupils were sent if there was a safeguarding concern following a fight or serious misdemeanour. The ban of the cooler meant the only alternative the teachers could think of was to send pupils to Mrs Fischer’s office. What this exposed was how prepared teachers were to outsource the challenges of working with young people to someone they thought had greater authority “to do something about it”.

The cooler may be known to teachers in the UK as the isolation room, responsible learning centre or any other variation that denotes excluding a child in some way. The cooler itself was a measure heputy headteacher Andrew Trenman introduced in season one. The cooler saw pupils who had disrupted class all the way through to pupils with extremely challenging home lives, with great overlap. It is a symbol of the crisis in education often understood as the school to prison pipeline. It is described as a pipeline because on the way to incarceration are school exclusions – 42% of people incarcerated in the UK had been permanently excluded, and the number rises to 63% when including temporary exclusions.