Educating Cardiff, episode two: 'The most important lessons are not for the pupils, but for the viewing public'
As teachers up and down the country get ready to welcome a brand new cohort of Year 7 pupils, fresh faced and eager from their primary years, Educating Cardiff took the time to remind us of a few of the difficulties this transition can present for pupils and for staff. When I hear a teacher or any member of school staff say, “I've seen it all before”, I take it with the pinch of salt all clichés deserve. It is vital that those responsible for the pastoral care of these children respond to the very particular and nuanced needs of very individual children.
Aaron was one of those pupils: a big character with charm that may not be instantly appreciated by peers, but loved by adults in schools. This boy was built for television. His lack of organisation led to one of the most amusing runs to assembly ever seen in Welsh education’s long and illustrious history. Although his big personality shone through, it was clear Aaron was a bit of a loner, something that could be linked to his love of lie-ins. In such an instance, an experienced and intuitive pastoral leader is what you need. Step in: Mr Roberts, who was emotionally intelligent enough to recognise that it was hard to pigeonhole Aaron. Was he alone out of choice or because of the rejection of his contemporaries? What was so heartening to see was that Mr Roberts took the time to dig a little deeper – with the aid of his sidekick Jack – to identify the necessary support, even if, in this case, something as simple as an alarm clock was needed to help Aaron to get to school on time. I really hope one day Aaron understands how well looked after he was in his early schooling by Mr Roberts. Maybe Aaron will be so grateful, he will turn around his organisation, his liberal use of colourful language and become so proactive in his learning that he almost single-handedly returns the house cup back to Raglan, enabling a triumphant yet teary Mr Roberts to laud it over his rivals. If only wishing made it so.
Initially, Assad seemed a much more cut-and-dried case. His behaviour was almost certain to have viewers up and down the country crying out at their screens, possibly throwing a variety of snacks at the box or ranting to long-suffering loved ones about what Assad needed. “Give him a bollocking!”, “We'd have got a slap for that in my day” or (my personal favourite) "Bring back National Service!" Even I was starting to get frustrated with Ms Ballard's gentle approach to his infuriating behaviour. Yet, she eventually proved why she is a headteacher and I am most decidedly not.
Assad seemed to enjoy – even thrive on – chaos. Ms Ballard brought a bit of calm to the situation and looked at the whole picture, even going as far as to ask staff to reflect on their presumptions about this child (sometimes it’s easy to forget that, while defiant, he is only 11). These simple steps led to positive improvement in his classroom behaviour. It is easy for those who don't have the responsibility for the variety of young people a headteacher does to present the problem as simple and to prescribe a one-size-fits-all approach to behaviour. It takes real experience and training to understand this is not even remotely true. We need to treat every child as individuals, because that is what they are. Once again, the most important lesson in this Educating... was not for the pupils, but for the viewer at home.
Next week, we have the triumphant return of Mr Hennessy and two girls who are likely to send Twitter's Daily Mail brigade into meltdown. Personally, I cannot wait.