One disruption too much

What do you do with a pupil who seems capable of anything? There is a point where schools should be allowed to say: enough!
Click to follow

Donna was brought into school last week. She is 14 and has the coldest, emptiest eyes I have ever seen. I am quite sure that she is capable of anything. She has spent the past few months running wild. Encouraged by her mother, she has been involved in a range of petty crimes. She has finally been cornered, and so now, she must attend school.

Donna was brought into school last week. She is 14 and has the coldest, emptiest eyes I have ever seen. I am quite sure that she is capable of anything. She has spent the past few months running wild. Encouraged by her mother, she has been involved in a range of petty crimes. She has finally been cornered, and so now, she must attend school.

It is clear from the outset that she doesn't want to be here. The thought that still goes through my mind a week later is exactly the same as the one that occurred to me when the welfare officer first dragged her into my office. What the hell am I to do with her? I have a school of 700 pupils sent to school by their parents to learn, and the last thing I want, indeed the last thing they all want, is having to deal with Donna. I had no choice but to accept her, even as the inevitable consequences stretched out before me. She is untamed, snarling and resentful and proceeded to create absolute mayhem for the rest of the morning. In the end we had no option but to give her what she wanted. I excluded her for foul and abusive language and the constant disruption of lessons.

We are a school with an attendance problem, and we employ all sorts of strategies to develop patterns of attendance in our pupils. There are those, however, such as Donna, who are not temperamentally suited to school and do their very best to sabotage the institution that they are forced to attend. Indeed, bringing Donna into school may well encourage others to stay away.

Like most schools, we do not have the resources to deal with that sort of disruption. The education of others was undermined, was sacrificed, in order to ensure that Donna was looked after. That makes teachers angry. On such occasions they feel regarded as a child-minding service. There have been problems on the streets. The best way of dealing with them is to shift the problem children into school. Never mind the effect that they may have on the progress of others. Pupils such as Donna soak up an enormous amount of time from those who must manage their return, and ultimately, you must ask yourself to what purpose. Her brief visit was fruitless and disproportionately expensive and benefited no one at all.

I am not saying that schools should wash their hands of all difficult and disruptive pupils. Schools have an obligation to educate that goes beyond the national curriculum subjects we must deliver. It is our duty to prepare all our students for their future. And for some, that future will be defined by unhappiness if they have no chance to modify their behaviour. This is an area in which schools have a vital role to play. The behaviour of teachers, who may well come from a completely different social context, provides valuable role-modelling. That is especially the case with adolescent males. They need to see that there are other ways of building their life and responding to difficulties and disappointments. Disagreements must be seen to be handled in other, constructive ways.

Shouting and confrontation may bring a sense of relief, but young people need to learn a repertoire of responses and should have a chance to think about what they have done. After all, we learn best from the mistakes we make. Sometimes an aggressive reaction to poor behaviour merely reinforces perceptions of power and dominance.

It is a teacher's duty to lead by example in both spirit and action. We do not expect to work only with those who already have skills. We help others to develop their skills in many different areas. Of course it is hard and demanding, but no one ever said that the job was easy.

But measured and professional responses require resources; they do not come cheap. They demand personalised, individual support and counselling. School is not always the best place for such resources. We have to consider the greater good. How do you feel when your child's class is disrupted by Donna? No, adequate alternative provision must exist. She is not a problem that should be tolerated by other people's children if she is a problem too far for yours. There comes a point at which you must cut your losses and send such young people elsewhere.

The pressure of league tables, in all their forms, seems to make schools less tolerant. It is certainly true that standards of acceptable behaviour vary between schools. It is important that we educate young people within their own environment as much as possible, away from the fear of condemnation and closure that the league tables bring with them. But I can quite understand why some institutions are less forgiving than others. It is no surprise that one school's exclusion is another school's detention.

Who is right? I'm not sure that I know. What I do know is that there are those for whom school is not the right place, and while policy suggests that all must attend, come what may, then the education of others will continue to be harmed. There has to be a better answer. Schools must be allowed to say that enough is enough.

The writer is deputy headmaster of a comprehensive school in Wales

Comments