I recently read this piece in the Guardian by Bergistra, a primary head working in a deprived area. The title of the piece “We can’t exclude any child … because sometimes school is all they really have”, is somewhat misleading. The head does exclude pupils, but only as a last resort.
The piece details a very damaged child in Reception, one who, through having problems understanding things said to her, must feel very alienated from her surroundings, and reacts accordingly.
“I have a reception child, aged four, who desperately needs some serious, long-term therapy. In school she is unmanageable. She bites, kicks, hits and runs. She has serious attachment and speech and language needs. This results in an inability to form appropriate relationships with either adults or her peers. She will plough through a group of children to get something she wants, unaware that she is hurting them as she does so.”
The headteacher details her frustration at the lack of support available to such children, how theoretically it is available, but in reality how difficult it is to access. I applaud her dedication to the children in her school, but I also question whether it really is best for children like this to be in mainstream education.
Schools are places of learning, but often this is seen as a secondary function within the community. Sometimes even within the school itself. While I don’t think this is necessarily the view of Bergistra, she does explain the many pies into which the school must extend its fingers.
“Schools like mine are no longer simply educational establishments. We are health centres, social care hubs, social security and housing advisers, counselling services, parenting practitioners and adult learning facilitators. We also teach children. We provide these services because if we didn’t, the children and families would have no hope of breaking out of the cycle of deprivation they find themselves in.”
Can a school really be expected to provide all of this? Is it right that it does?
In the case of damaged children, often their social care appears to come before any evaluation of the impact of their presence on others. The education of the many can sometimes be sidelined in favour of the inclusion of the few. I’ve written about Leon and Shelby, two children who were difficult to teach, and who (particularly in the case of Shelby) disrupted the education of her classmates. The pupils in Shelby’s class looked exhausted and resigned to her presence – is this really how other children should be made to feel?
Do schools, by keeping damaged and problem children in a class, effectively devalue the education of others? Are they, in effect, saying that one person has a greater right than another?
I think this wish to do the best for damaged children, leads to a situation in many schools whereby the problems they cause are overlooked (and sometimes completely ignored) in favour of ‘doing the right thing’ and ‘inclusion’. I don’t think this is in the best interests of either the damaged child or their classmates.
In my next few posts I’m going to give examples of some of the damaged children I have come across throughout my teaching career, with examples of both primary and secondary pupils. Some of them have been victims of abuse, others genuinely SEN or simply out of control. I will also explain what support was available, what was given, and the impact this had on both them and their classmates.
I don’t claim to have the answer to this problem, and even if I did, I am not in a position to implement it. That needs to be done by those in power, after listening to the teachers who deal with such things every day.
I welcome your comments.