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The sound of an arduous afternoon

"Whooooooooo ..."

This is the sound of Andrew being brought to my room by a nursery assistant. It is so loud, classes everywhere can hear Andrew travelling through the building towards me. Like a passenger on the station hearing the approaching whistle of a distant train, I recognise the noise and know that in three minutes I'll be having the same battle I have had for the past fortnight. For Andrew is a very difficult four-year-old I'm helping to settle into our nursery.

"Whooooooooo ..."

A teaching assistant covers her ears. "Gawd, not again," she mutters, hurrying in the opposite direction. Secretary Sandra visibly tenses at her computer and checks to see if she's got any aspirin left.

On day one, Andrew bounded into the nursery. Overwhelmed by the array of equipment, he began to throw it around. When he had finished hurling building bricks, he went to the book corner and tried to throw the books as well. He left a trail of devastation wherever he went, and when anyone tried to halt his activities he gave them a whack on the leg, a head butt or a kick. His ability to interact with other children was non-existent. At first, they looked at him in astonishment and then quickly learnt to avoid him in case a missile came flying their way.

A handful of children are always difficult to settle when they start, but this period usually ends quickly once they realise how warm and friendly our staff are and how many exciting things there are to do. Andrew, though, was something else.

The time-out chair was soon brought into play. There was only one problem. He absolutely refused to sit on it. He wriggled, squirmed and shuffled until he could slip out of the adult's grasp. Ultimately, there was only one thing for it. He had to be brought to Mr Kent.

When he arrived, I thanked my lucky stars that he was so small and lifted him into the corner of my room by the desk. He wasn't having any of that. Whoooooing loudly - and it was obvious by now that it was for effect only - he jumped up, ran around the room and starting twanging my guitars. I lifted him again, put him back, and 15 minutes passed before he suddenly realised I would keep doing this until he sat still. For a few minutes, I had thought I might have to nail his trousers to the floor to stop him moving.

As I worked at my computer, his eyes flickered from my screen to my face as he attempted to assess whether it was worth heading for the guitars again. Eventually the nursery teacher came, smiled at him and led him quietly back downstairs.

Like Groundhog Day, the next fortnight passed in similar fashion until, at last, he began to change and visit me less frequently. As his behaviour improved, the teacher put colourful stickers on his chart, and he was told that 10 stickers would mean a trip to Mr Kent for a very special badge.

On the day he earned his 10th sticker, I was in the library having a meeting. Suddenly, the door flew upon. "Whooooooooooo!" Unfortunately, Andrew still associated coming to see me with being put in a corner. Then, as I fixed a large badge on to his jumper and everybody in the meeting smiled and gave him a cheer, he suddenly realised what was happening and the most delightful grin lit up his face.

We were succeeding. "Whooooooooo," I went. For joy!

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London. Email: mikejkent@aol.com.

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