Damaged Children: Ross

Ross isn’t understood by his family.

They think he’s got mental health problems.

His mother told me how much work he is, and how worried she is about him. She thinks his younger brother might be OK most of the time, but every now and again she worries he’s turning out a bit like Ross. Nowhere near as bad, mind. Just a little bit like Ross.

Ross’s mother, Marie, doesn’t work. She has a bad back and depression, so she spends a lot of time at home. A lot of time worrying about Ross.

Why is he like he is?

Why doesn’t he do the things the other kids on the estate do?

Why isn’t he normal?

I ask her what she means. What is it about Ross that worries her so much? I’ve spent time with him and he seems untroubled by any discernible mental health worries. I’ve taught him off and on for two months and nothing about him raises any alarm bells for me.

Marie explains.

Ross is on Ritalin, so he’s probably OK at school, but when he gets home he’s a nightmare. She just can’t control him. Her husband helps when he gets home, but sometimes he’s out until 7, and it really isn’t fair to bother him after he’s been at work all day. He’s worried about Ross too.

She asks for some advice. The doctor (a new one) wants to take Ross off Ritalin, but she doesn’t think she’ll be able to cope if he does. What can I suggest? Is it better to travel all the way over to Dr Jewson in the far surgery? They’re not really in the catchment area, but Dr Jewson has helped her in the past. In fact he suggested Ritalin when they used to live over that way a few years ago. He’d seen Ross after they’d all had lunch at the fair, so he knows what Ross is like.

I tell Marie that I can’t make a decision like that, she needs expert medical advice. Perhaps she needs to take Ross into the new doctor for an assessment, things change, and maybe he really does no longer need the Ritalin. I explain that one day last week there was a visiting theatre group and Ross forgot to go to reception for his tablet, but there was no deterioration in his behaviour. Maybe the new doctor is right.

Marie assures me he isn’t. There are really is a problem. Ross just isn’t normal.

I ask Marie to clarify this, I tell her I don’t really understand – what exactly is Ross doing that worries her so much?

Marie tells me. Ross runs all around her on the way home from school. He won’t stop talking. The meds must have worn off because he shouldn’t really be like this. He keeps telling her stories, he goes on and on and expects her to reply. She can’t even look at her phone when he’s like this as she’s worried he’ll step into the road as he’s not concentrating on where he’s going.

She pushes the buggy with his younger brother, at least Darren’s usually asleep by then, otherwise Ross gets him going by talking to him and asking him how nursery went. It’s endless. It drives her mad.

Her sister’s kids aren’t like this. They run off ahead on their own on the way home from school. They’re in the front garden when her sister gets there. Why doesn’t Ross do that?

When Marie gets in she makes a cup of tea and settles down in front of the TV. Her back hurts after the walk to and from school, pushing that buggy is tough as Darren’s quite a big boy. But she can’t relax. Not with Ross all around her. The other kids are out playing on the wasteland at the side of number 13. But Ross isn’t. He says he doesn’t like doing the stuff the other kids do. But she doesn’t think the other kids do much harm. Number 13 isn’t lived in anyway. She locked him out one afternoon. Not for long, just until tea-time. But he still didn’t go away and play with the other kids. He just sat in the garden with a book.

Books! So many books! It’s not normal. He doesn’t go out with the other kids unless they’re playing football in the park. That’s what he should be doing. Not reading things he doesn’t understand. He gets them from the school library – can’t we stop him picking difficult things?

After tea he goes on his computer. Always on his computer. That starts fights with Darren because Ross won’t let him play games on it. He keeps looking at things. Really weird things.

And then he asks questions. He keeps asking questions. He won’t shut up.

“What’s a black hole?”, “How long will it take to reach Mars?”, “If God invented the universe, who invented God?”, “How do rainbows form? Why are they bent?”, “Who invented money?”, “Who’s the richest man in the world?”, “What weighs more – an elephant or a rhino?”

Questions, questions, it drives her mad. Her eldest never did this. He kept quiet until he went inside. Why can’t Ross? Maybe she should see if Dr Jewson will increase the Ritalin? She might get some peace then. Why can’t he just be normal?

And then I understand.

Posted in Behaviour, SEN | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Jeremy Clarkson? He’s in year 9, isn’t he?

Much has been made in the news about the recent ‘fracas’ between Jeremy Clarkson and his producer Oisin Tymon. Essentially, Clarkson was upset that instead of being given a hot steak, he was provided with cold food. His reaction to this was to (allegedly) hit his producer. This was accompanied by an apparent 30 minute expletive-laden tirade. Accounts of this vary, but suffice to say, he didn’t conduct himself well.

Whilst the actions of Jeremy Clarkson don’t surprise me overly much, I am truly horrified at the campaign that has sprung up to support him. I am even more appalled to discover that some of my friends have pledged their allegiance to this cause on FaceBook. the justification, being, apparently, that he is valuable to the show, and it wouldn’t be the same without him.

I mean, REALLY?

Imagine you’re sitting in an empty train carriage and another passenger gets on. He chooses to sit opposite you, crosses his legs and proceeds to swing his raised foot back and forth, in such a way that it repeatedly makes contact with your shin. You ask him to stop. He launches into a shouty rant, where he repeatedly uses language designed to upset or intimidate you. Looking around, you notice the ticket inspector has entered the carriage and is standing watching the whole thing unfold.

You go over to the ticket inspector and ask him to intervene as you are feeling very uncomfortable and not a little aggrieved.

However, instead of the ticket inspector telling the passenger that his behaviour is unacceptable, you are subject to a lecture about how the particular passenger is a frequent traveller (and thus valuable to the train company) with a very demanding job, and he was probably just letting off steam.

You are advised to move, or to find ways of coping with the onslaught.

Well, you’d be horrified, wouldn’t you?

How is the reaction to Jeremy Clarkson any different? Noel Edmonds has even gone one step further, blaming the BBC for failing to “give Clarkson the support that such a mercurial talent requires.

Yes, that’s right. Jeremy Clarkson’s inability to control his temper is someone else’s fault.

Where have I heard that before?

Now clearly Jeremy Clarkson is not really in Year 9, but his behaviour most certainly is. Early this morning, Andrew Old tweeted about a piece in the Telegraph, in which the author was celebrating the revocation of guidance that would have enabled a headteacher to more easily exclude a problem child.

The author (Mark Greaves, director of the School Exclusion Project), states that:

It is of note that the latest set of statistics released by the Department for Education showed that students with SEN account for seven in 10 of all permanent exclusions, despite making up only 20 per cent of the school population.

That suggests that far too often young people with SEN are simply treated as “naughty” and kicked out for “misbehaviour” which they shouldn’t be held responsible for.

I take issue with this statement.

I have noticed, that many of my non-teaching friends have an association of the term ‘SEN’ with the word ‘disabled’. That is, a child with special needs has either a physical or mental disability.

Unfortunately that isn’t always the case, and in fact I’ll write again specifically about this article.

As Andrew Old rightly pointed out, many of those children labelled SEN are simply naughty. They have been pandered to throughout the educational career, until they reach the point at which they can no longer be expected to conduct themselves properly. How else do you explain the child who apparently ‘can’t follow any form of instruction as he has confrontational issues’, thus can’t be expected to even write his own name at the top of the page, let alone write a few sentences without a TA to scribe, before he needs a ‘brain break’ to enable him to calm down. Yet somehow, this same child can happily concentrate intensely for an hour when either sat before a computer or following the instructions of the scarily strict football coach. SEN? Really?

My analogy with Clarkson and an explosively-tempered train passenger may seem to be stretching the comparison. After all, if such an incident occurred, you’d move and then make a complaint to the rail company. You’d hope that it would be dealt with appropriately.

But, just for a moment, imagine you’re 14 again.

You’re being bullied by a pupil in your class. When staff aren’t looking he hits you, he calls you names and generally succeeds in making your life in school pretty miserable.

You’d hope that if you told a teacher it would be dealt with pretty quickly. But what if it wasn’t? What if, after a number of incidents, you were told that you would have to learn to deal with it, because it wasn’t the bully’s fault? That he would receive no punishment because ‘he couldn’t help it‘. How would you feel? The injustice would cut deep. The very people who you turn to, to look after you, would have let you down.

How would you feel if, as a teacher, you were told that the bullying pupil would not be excluded as he was a Pupil Premium child, and so ‘brought in an extra income stream‘? Speechless? I know I was.

Consider Jeremy Clarkson again for one moment. Apparently he also threatened the producer’s employment, saying that he would ensure the producer lost his job over the lack of hot food.

Well, we’ve heard that one before, from the school bullies and the uncontrollable children, haven’t we? Furthermore, he took to Twitter to joke about which film could be aired in place of the cancelled Top Gear episodes. Sorry for his beaviour? No, not a bit of it. He even went as far as to crow about pushing a piece about Ed Milliband further down the news agenda. And, in the Daily Mail article, it seems that, as in so many schools, the badly behaved triumph as he had his steak cooked by the general manager, eating this in a private dining room.

So whilst I’m dismayed at the support Clarkson has received, given his appalling behaviour, I’m not really all that surprised.

For too many years schools have existed in a bubble of ‘anyone’s fault but the perpetrator’s’. Is it any wonder then, that there are now adults who feel exactly the same way? They have grown up with this outlook and really can’t see how inappropriate such actions are.

And incidentally, I bet that if Clarkson really was in Year 9 now, he wouldn’t be called naughty, rude or aggressive – he’d be labelled as SEN…

Posted in Behaviour, SEN | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Living in London

I’ve just got home from a four day break in London. My brother and sister-in-law are leaving as my brother’s company is transferring him abroad.

I had a lovely time, filled with friends and fun.

But I also became acutely aware that I could never live there as a teacher, most certainly not as a supply teacher.

I just don’t earn enough.

Many of the friends I saw work in sectors where the starting pay far outstrips that of a teacher. By the time they have been qualified 6 or 10 years, they’ll be earning about 5 times that of teacher at the top of the main payscale. Some of them are still renting, finding that even with a good salary, buying in London is all but impossible.

I’ve looked at the prices of studios, one and two-bed flats in Zone 2 only – I know Zone 1 is out of the question! Prices range from £999 pcm for a studio in Kensal Rise, to £1500 pcm for a one-bed flat in Vauxhall. Two bedroom flats (well, we all like a bit of space, don’t we?) start at £1199 pcm in New Cross. None of these prices include either council tax or services. And they’re all the lowest prices I could find, ignoring beds-in-sheds and buildings that look as though they ought to be condemned.

Figures for percentage of income spent on rent vary from 25% to 59%, depending on which source you look at, and where the rental property is located. Taking this as a source, simply because it gives a spread of UK data, I worked out the average salary a renter would need to be on.

In order to pay the prices I listed above, which have to come out of net income, and taking a percentage of that net income being spent on rent as 26.2% (from This Is Money article, 2011 figures), a renter would need to have:

  • A monthly net income of £3,812.98, which equates to an annual gross income of £66,576.79 for the Kensal Rise studio.
  • A monthly net income of £5,725.19, equating to an annual gross salary of £109,371.20 for the 1-bed flat in Vauxhall.
  • A monthly net income of £4,576.34, equating to an annual gross salary of £82,370.44 for the 2-bed flat in New Cross.

Clearly this is absurd. The 2013 figure given by shelter of 59% of net salary spent on rent is far more realistic. Even so, that gives:

  • A monthly net income of £1,693.22, which equates to an annual gross income of £25,535.17 for the Kensal Rise studio.
  • A monthly net income of £2,542.37, equating to an annual gross salary of £40,520.17 for the 1-bed flat in Vauxhall.
  • A monthly net income of £2,032.20, equating to an annual gross salary of £31,517.17 for the 2-bed flat in New Cross.

In comparison, the monthly rents as a percentage of a teacher’s net salary are as follows:

Kensal Rise: 55.29% at M1, 42.52% at M6

Vauxhall: 83.01% at M1, 63.84% at M6

New Cross: 66.36% at M1, 51.03% at M6.

I’ve used the website The Salary Calculator to help work these out. I’ve also used the current upper (M6) and lower (M1) limits of mainscale pay (2014-2015) at Inner London rate to calculate the percentages of income. For the purposes of simplicity, I haven’t included either pension contributions or student loan repayments in the deductions. Factor those in, and the available net income falls even lower.

Unless you’re on the Upper Pay Scale, take on lots of extra responsibility or live far further out than Zone 2 (not helpful if you work in Zones 1 or 2), a teacher is simply not going to be able to afford to live in London on their own. The only way round this is to flat-share.

But even that doesn’t come cheap. A double room in Mile End is advertised for £642 pcm, excluding council tax and utilities.

How do teachers in London manage? Are they mostly in house-shares?

London is a great place to live, I can see why it attracts so many people every year. I can see why bankers, barristers and media people love living there.

I can’t see how public sector workers are expected to do so.

And don’t even get me started on the cost of public transport in London …!

350 (1)

Room available to rent in Wimbledon!

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Homework is dead! Long live…

…Individualised Learning Opportunities.


I went into one of my semi-regular schools yesterday and was informed by a member of SMT that I must use the new ‘Learners’ Target Terms’.

‘Homework’, it appears, has been declared a forbidden word.

I did ask why the name change had been brought in. After all, if it’s work that’s done at home, it’s homework, right?


One of the deputy heads informed me that ‘strategic dialogues‘ had taken place with ‘concerned parties‘ and that ‘the over-arching framework of agreed reference‘ was that ‘homework is detrimentally impacting on students’ attitude to the furthering of their knowledge.‘ The SMT had therefore decided to ‘build upon students’ strengths and equip them for a challenging future by encouraging dissemination of peer-to-peer knowledge in a more realistically reflective way.

I then went and asked someone who speaks English what it was all about.

The head of the MFL department explained that the word ‘homework’ was considered to have negative connotations, and that the SMT had decided to replace it with ‘Individualised Learning Opportunities’. This, apparently, is much more positive and the pupils will be more inclined to complete it than when it was called ‘homework’.

I can’t see any flaws in this exemplary piece of reasoning.

Honestly, none at all…

Posted in Bright Ideas | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Bigot? Racist? Or just a child?

I have mixed reactions to this piece by Hugo Muir of the Guardian. I understand that the author is saying that the ‘logging’ of ‘incidents’ really reflects on the views the children are exposed to at home, and so should not be a cause for concern about the child itself. But this is where I become worried.

A few years ago I had two ‘incidents’ happen in the classes I was teaching in two different schools. They were handled in two very different ways.

Both of these ‘incidents’ could be seen as discrimination, and therefore bigotry. Both, in fact, were reported as such. But from where I stood, I didn’t see that at all.

Firstly, some background. One was classified as ‘racist’, the other as ‘homophobic’. Both incidents involved children of 5 or 6 years old.

In the first incident, the ‘racist’ one, a small white boy had asked his equally small classmate why he was ‘so dark’. The black boy called him a racist and ran off to find the member of staff on duty that breaktime. As I had been teaching the class that morning, I was asked to write a report about whether there was an underlying current of racism in the class. There wasn’t. At least, none that had been apparant to me in the short time I had been at the school. The black boy was the only one in the class, because apart from 3 white chilren, the rest were all of asian descent.

The head made the decison that this wasn’t a racist incident, and explained to the black boy that racism meant being nasty to someone because of their skin colour, but it did not stop someone asking questions, so long as they were polite. To the white boy, he explained that some questions are considered rude, and that we don’t ask them. Now, I don’t entirely agree with his explanations to the boys, but it produced a harmonious result and the two spent the rest of the day working and playing together.

The parents of both children were informed, and, as far as I know, no further action was taken.

In the second incident, one girl (A) asked another (B) what it was like having two mothers. Unfortunately she then said ‘because it’s normal to have a mum and a dad not two mums.’ The child with two mothers ran off to find a member of staff and complained that girl A had been homophobic.

As in the first incident, both children were taken off to see the head. However, the reaction in this school was quite different. The parents were called in, and child A was sent home. I was called into the head’s office and told that the class I was covering would recive ‘diversity intervention’ the following day.

One of the mothers of child B came in armed with volumes of literature, photocopied for each child, a PowerPoint on homophobic bullying and a lecture on the legal ramifications of persisting in this behaviour. The class were 6 years old. Child A was back in class, and sat there looking terrified throughout. The head, who had been present for the entire ‘intervention’, sat beaming at the parent and gave a resounding endorsement of everything she had said at the end. The pupils just looked stunned.

Later on, one of the TAs said that a third child had come up to her sheepishly and asked if it was ok to still speak to child A because she was homophobic and he didn’t want to get into trouble too. He was also worried about speaking to child B as he had both a mother and a father and was scared that would get him into trouble because he wasn’t ‘diverse’.

Now personally, I do not think either of these incidents was an example of intolerance. Rather, of a child’s natural curioisity about the world around them. If you don’t understand about inheritance and skin pigments, you may well wonder why people are different colours. If you’ve just learnt that a baby only comes into this world as a result of a contribution from male and female gametes, then it’s perfectly understandable that someone who seems to come from only female gametes may well be a puzzle.

I can’t see any malice in either comment – I do see genuine curiosity.

If both of these incients were reported as ‘intolerance’, then the parents of these chilren would be considered to be at fault for exposing them to undesirable thoughts, expressions and influences.

But would this in fact be the case? Can anyone really be sure from such incidents?

I despair at the reaction of the second head. Excluding a child, even for half a day, for such an event is appalling. Wouldn’t it have been better to explain why such a question can be misunderstood, and to have offered a explanation as to why? Instead, she chose to punish and submitted a report to the LA of a homophobic incident.

Racism and homophobia exist. But they exist where the intention is to cause hurt. If you’re in KS1 and still learning how to use the language, it seems more likely that any percived ‘hurt’ is the result of youth and inexperience.

I don’t advocate ignoring such incidents, but explanation, not instilling fear, is a far better way to deal with them.

I worry, because in some instances, the adults who should be guiding the children seem to have very little understanding of the world through a child’s eyes. Is the reporting of such incidents merely highlighting our own ignorance of their understanding of the world?

Posted in Behaviour, Home life, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Biological Warfare

Two days ago I was enthusing about how lovely it is working with young children in the run-up to Christmas.

I take it all back.



The little rotters have given me GERMS!!!



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It’s Father Christmas!

It’s cold, the weather’s a bit yuk, but hey, it’s nearly Christmas!

I’ve spent the day in a primary school that was Christmas crazy – tinsel and paperchains on everything and everyone. Even the head looked uncannily like a Christmas tree!

The school is in a deprived area, high unemployment and low aspirations abound amongst the local inhabitants. Most of the children I taught (I use that term loosely, seeing as how it’s nearly the end of term) will not be receiving much this year. Some won’t receive anything. I was warned when I went in not to ask the children what they would be doing over the holidays as a few were terrified at the prospect of the total lack of routine at home, compared with that of being in school.

The children were told in assembly that Father Christmas would be coming into school and they would get a chance to meet him after lunch. Cynical Year 6s, too cool for primary school, sat up and took notice, before looking around surreptitiously, hoping no one had seen them letting the mask slip. The Reception children had to be reminded to be quiet otherwise father Christmas would not be visiting their classroom – he counted noisy as naughty. This had the unfortunate consequence of rendering them utterly silent throughout the short prayer and song.

One worried child came up to me at break and confided that he was scared he wouldn’t get a present as he had been naughty that morning. I asked him what he had done, and managed to keep a straight face when he said he had poured salt into his brother’s orange juice at breakfast. He assured me it was meant to be a joke, but his brother hadn’t taken it well. I assured him that it probably wouldn’t affect his ‘Santa Score’, but it would be best not to do it again. He assured me he probably wouldn’t – not because he thought it was unfair to his brother, but because he didn’t want his brother pouring salty orange juice over him in revenge again!

Lunch came and went, the children kept asking “Is he here yet?” and looking anxiously up at the sky. Until someone said they’d seen him pulling up outside in a Ford Focus.

At last he was here! Every child in the class received a gift. And every child said thank-you. Unprompted. Well, maybe just a few…

As Father Christmas got up to leave, one of the children asked him if he was real. “Do you believe I’m real?” asked Father Christmas. As the child nodded, he added “Then I am.”

The rest of the afternoon was spent in making more paperchains and Christmas decorations that were 90% glitter. I pity the cleaners!

Word went round that the staff should all go to the staffroom at the end of the day, supply included. Too late for Ofsted, no one was quite sure why the summons was issued. But, as I went into the staffroom, we were all handed a mince pie and a glass of (non-alcoholic) punch – our gift from Father Christmas!

I’ve had a fantastic day. I’ve worked with great people who worked exceptionally hard to make sure all the children enjoyed themselves. They ensured no one was left out, and that, at least for today, all the children in school had the chance to be excited about the Christmas festival.

The children were excited and, even where they were too old and cynical for the Father Christmas myth, went along with it for the sake of the younger ones.

I was there for one day, but I was made to feel part of a great day, thanks to both the children and the staff. It was a long drive and I nearly turned down the booking, but I’m so glad I didn’t.

As I left the staffroom, I overheard two of the teachers discussing the day’s Father Christmas, “I’ve never seen him so happy, he’s normally as cheery as a funeral.”

“Well, you can’t be unhappy here – not today anyway.”

I smiled as I left, because yes, this is why I teach.



*A slightly grumpier Father Christmas…!
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