Two meetings are taking place simultaneously in the offices of the head and deputy. The deputy is taking the reinstatement meeting of Patsy, a Year 11 pupil who has been excluded for the third time for fighting, persistent defiance, disruption of lessons and destroying school property (she tore pages out of her GCSE literature text and told her teacher where he could put his Mice and Men). Patsy sits, with nose, lip and eyebrow pierced (not allowed in school), clutching her mobile phone (not allowed in school), chewing, alternately huffing at staff and simpering to her mother and social worker.

The woman from the local authority suggests it is now time to draw up a pastoral support plan for Patsy, and proffers the use of target sheets. "Nah, I had them blue ones from him and tore 'em up," responds Patsy. The deputy confirms this.

The education welfare officer suggests that if Patsy could arrive for a whole week before 9.30am, her achievement could be celebrated with a visit to McDonald's. The social worker suggests that if Patsy could attend for three days a week, then a work-related placement might be found for the other two days. The deputy gulps, remembering that his attempt at a similar plan ended with an irate phone call from the personnel manager of a local store about missing stock.

Patsy is asked to explain her feelings before her outbursts. "Dunno. It gets on my tits." Her mother explains that Patsy is concerned about her sister who is about to produce her next baby. The local authority woman and the social worker nod; the deputy remarks that the sister has not been in this condition for all of the past three years.

The deputy tentatively raises the problem of the multi body-piercing. The social worker feels that to curtail Patsy's adornments will inhibit her self-esteem. Her mother's response is: "Not bloody likely, she cost me pound;50 for them things."

Eventually, the woman from the pupil referral unit decides that her unit will not be able to offer Patsy the most advantageous environment in which she could achieve. The woman from the local authority sums up by saying that Patsy would be better off remaining in school with a full pastoral support plan. What would Patsy like as a weekly incentive to behave? The deputy turns white as the woman from the pupil referral unit says that if Patsy is allowed to remain in this school, she should get on with her GCSE course and be grateful for another chance.

Social worker and local authrity woman gasp, let the comment pass and tempt Patsy with more PE lessons and non-attendance for science, Damp;T, drama and possibly history, until she acquires sufficient coping skills.

The deputy feels his heart sink and thinks of the head in the adjoining office in the middle of an Ofsted feedback meeting with the man from the local authority.

The head is trying to put her case. With four grammar schools in the city and three private schools in the near vicinity, how can this school be called a true comprehensive? More than 40 per cent of the pupils receive free school meals, and 20 per cent have English as an additional language. How can this school perform as well as the grammar schools?

The local authority man says the head must set targets for improvement, aim for 35 per cent GCSE five A* to Cs, and she must ensure her staff employ adequate classroom management techniques and that the temporary exclusion figures must come down. "Don't you think we are trying to do all that?" she asks in despair.

She goes on to explain she was at school at 7.30am, along with many of her staff. Their targets for improvement are being met slowly, and they are working on increasing parental support. But when mothers condone pupils' absences for emergency childminding, it is a hard problem to crack.

The local authority man says that anyone could make these excuses and suggests that this under-performing school should be linked with a beacon school. The head could then gain new management skills and apply a monitoring and self-evaluation cycle to complete the picture.

The head feels crushed and isolated; the local beacon school doesn't take Patsy-type pupils, it dazzles the local authority with its outstanding performance and never excludes a soul. She rapidly wonders if there are personal survival programmes for "underperforming heads".

The two meetings finish. The man from the local authority bumps into the woman from the local authority and they walk off together. Patsy nods as the social worker asks her if she would be able to cope with being in school for the next few weeks. The deputy asks the head how her meeting has gone. She shakes her head. Patsy waves her mother off the premises, she strokes the many studs on her face, turns to the head and says: "I'm going to McDonald's if I come in early enough", before sauntering off to be included in the next English lesson.

Gill Pyatt is head of Barnwood Park School, Gloucester

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