After eight children had been removed, Clare staggered through the day. The experience haunted her for weeks

Mike Kent

Draw your chairs closer to the fire; I'm going to tell you a horror story. When I employed Clare, not so long ago, she proved herself a talented, dedicated teacher. After three years she wanted to travel, but she was a teacher through and through, and I guessed it wouldn't be long before she was with children again. When she returned, she enlisted with a supply agency and her first assignment was a day with a Year 5 class in a leafy suburb.

She was directed to a hut, cut off from the main school. Surprised to find she had to shout to be heard, the "behaviour monitor" told her that misbehaving children had to write their names in a box on the board. The child then had 10 minutes to improve, whereupon their name would be removed. Unfortunately, she wasn't told what happened if the behaviour didn't improve.

Warren, a large boy, began to fool about. Clare asked him to put his name in the box, and he refused. She asked again. He stood up, kicked his chair, and swaggered to the front, deliberately knocking books off a display. He stared at Clare, wandered into the cloakroom area, banged the door, and then made faces through the window. Other children began to show off, too. Clare scribbled a note to the head, asking Andrea to take it quickly. She didn't even reach the door. Warren leapt in front of her and shoved her back. Unnerved, Clare ordered him to sit down. Still punching Andrea, Warren walked up to Clare and screamed "No!" in her face. Then he turned and started fighting two other children, saying he would only sit down if Clare didn't send messages. She told him she did not bargain, and was here to teach, not referee.

Warren knew that Clare had no way of getting help. Again she tried. Immediately, Warren jumped on the child. During the commotion, the classroom assistant was able to run to the office. Eventually, the regular class teacher arrived back for lunch from the course she was attending, and reluctantly told Clare she'd sort out the problem using circle time. She managed to lower the noise level, and asked the children to explore their anger and examine their feelings. Warren remained defiant, and the headteacher was summoned again. She was irritated to be called, and warned the children she "might have to talk to their parents". Warren raised his hand and asked her if he could have a bag of pins, explaining that he "wanted to stick 'em in the other kids". The class teacher urged Clare to stay, so that she could return to her course, and, after eight children had been removed, Clare staggered through the day. The experience haunted her for weeks.

Yes, some teachers experience this daily. It is no longer extraordinary. But these children were 10-year-olds, and reaching the end of what should be an enjoyable chunk of their education.What have we come to, that children can be so uncontrollable at such a tender age? What chance has the secondary school receiving these children got? Precious little, except to expel them. Yet I remain optimistic, because it doesn't have to be like that. Perhaps the first step is to train senior management to be "hands-on" leaders, not people who hide in barricaded rooms under piles of paperwork.

Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark. Email:

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Mike Kent

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