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Pupils I'll never forget

Anna Bourke recalls a lovable rogue who faced many difficulties in his short life

My first encounter with Levi was as he threw sticks at a horse chestnut tree, hoping for an early crop of conkers. We had words as we left the tree to recover.

It was his first day at St Benedict, a secondary school in Derby. By the end of the first term we had become well acquainted. I was deputy head.

Levi lived nearby but was often late and reluctant to go to lessons, so he was taken under the wing of the pastoral team. We worked closely with Carol, his mum.

Levi had a bubbly personality and was comfortable in adults' company. He looked older than his 12 years and was something of a local celebrity as he had survived a heart transplant when younger. He lived near the children's hospital, and would pop in for tea but miss his check-ups.

By Year 8, his mum admitted it was a struggle to get him to school. We had a case conference and agreed ways to help him. For a while attendance improved.

One day I found him playing truant. As we walked back to school he told me he was worried about his mum, who had cancer. When she died, Levi was devastated. He was placed in the care of Curtis, his older brother. Levi insisted he wanted to live locally with family. The school, hospital staff and social services worked together in the following months.

His brother did his best to get him to school and remind him to take his pills but Levi's health deteriorated and he went into hospital just before Christmas.

I went to visit him and he was like the king of the ward, sitting in a throne-like chair happy to be the centre of attention. He was on first-name terms with the nurses. We had a little chat, not easy as Levi was wearing an oxygen mask.

He died that night. His young friends felt he had died of a broken heart, knowing how much he missed his mum. They were grief-stricken and so were the school and hospital staff who had helped him.

We arranged a requiem mass. Pupils and staff shared memories of mischief, friendship and good times. The church was packed with people who had become his adopted family. We sang, prayed, laughed and wept together as we gave thanks for his life and said farewell. It is difficult to come to terms with the death of a pupil.

Anna Bourke is a former deputy head of St Benedict school, Derby. She now works for Nottingham LEA

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