A recent TES Magazine article haunted me for days. The writer, a secondary teacher, had been attempting to deal with a challenging teenager, and as the class left the room the boy barged against him to get out.
The pupil was told to go to the headteacher, but he refused. The teacher took the boy's arm to lead him there, but the boy told him to F-off before storming out. The teacher immediately reported the incident to the deputy head. This sort of thing occurs regularly in secondary schools and increasingly in primaries. But it was what happened next that horrified me.
The teacher received a call from the police, who said a complaint had been made against him by the school. Now, just in case that sentence hasn't hit home, let me say it again: the school had made a complaint.
Here was a teacher who was trying to do his job, but was challenged by an aggressive child and then accused of assault. The entire six seconds of arm-holding had been captured on CCTV, but it made no difference. The teacher was questioned in a police cell for hours, charged with assault and suspended for gross misconduct. Ultimately, it almost wrecked the teacher's career. It simply beggars belief that things have come to this.
What was the head thinking? Where was the help from senior management or the union? Were all these people frightened of giving a staff member some support? And why was this drastic action taken when the mitigating circumstances could be so clearly seen on internal CCTV?
My mind catapulted back to a situation several years ago. It was close to Christmas, and a Year 6 teacher had taken his class to the hall to practise their Christmas concert item on our stage. At that time we had a small but very challenging boy in Year 3, and he had asked his teacher if he could go to the toilet. On the way back he ended up wandering into the hall, where he was asked to leave several times by the rehearsing teacher. The boy refused and stood banging the door annoyingly. The teacher walked over to him, put his hands on the boy's shoulders, and steered him firmly out of the hall and along the corridor to his classroom. A note was sent to me, telling me what had happened, and that seemed to be that.
Until his mother arrived outside my room telling me that her son had been assaulted and if I didn't deal with the teacher she was going to the police. It was quite clear she thought he should have been suspended immediately. I told her that her son shouldn't have been wandering about, that he should have gone straight back to his classroom when he was told the first time, and that if she had a bit more control over him we wouldn't be trying to deal with his continually poor behaviour in school.
For several days we were aware that we were on a knife edge, because nowadays teachers are in danger if they so much as put a hand on a child's arm. Yet conversely, many of them have to tolerate appalling rudeness, and sometimes violence, without the slightest redress. The situation is ludicrous.
Yesterday, as I was leaving school, I passed one of my teachers who was walking home. I asked her why, because she usually took the bus. "I'd rather walk," she said. "The bus is full of teenagers and their behaviour is outrageous."
How can we have allowed things to sink to this level?
Mike Kent's new book Tales from the Head's Room is published by Continuum, priced #163;14.99.