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Take charge, be accountable

Do we really know the children we teach? We know, if we allow ourselves to think about it, that a lot of our pupils have been abused in some way. That includes the well-fed, clean and well-spoken ones, as well as the ones you somehow suspect. The number shoots up for those with additional support needs, especially who can't speak up.

It's been a year of painful court cases - a ring of paedophiles which, to our horror, included someone we knew. It is still hard to reconcile his acts of depravity with the caring, gentle soul we thought he was. A headteacher gets two years for downloading indecent images, a nursery nurse takes terrible photographs of the toddlers in her care. And we, the teachers, work with some children too experienced in the wicked ways of the world and wonder why they are too quiet or suffer such pain.

We also should know that our pupils who are sexually active do it for a packet of cigarettes, or a fiver - or because they think it will make them popular. It makes me yearn for a better society, for our children to have more self-esteem, greater knowledge.

And then we have to balance that with the fact that many of these children sleep in rooms stowed with electronic gear. In fact, sleep is the wrong word because, by the time they have watched a DVD, played computer games and whiled away a few hours on networking sites, they are too wound-up to sleep. Hence the grumpy, tired teenagers we struggle to teach.

Somehow, I'm left thinking that maybe too few parents really know their children either, or know what they are up to, where they go, or what they see and do online.

We can't make up for careless parents, or put right some of the terrible wrongs perpetrated on some children. But we can try to make school a safe place, where each child is valued and where we treat them with the compassion we would if we did know they had been, or were being, abused.

That doesn't mean no discipline - because the reality is that they are safest in a room where the teacher is in charge and thus brings order into their disorderly lives.

Happy New Year .

Penny Ward is a secondary teacher.

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