A sharp rebuke for little devils

8th December 2006 at 00:00
I wasn't a particularly well-behaved child. Usually my mother talked to me about what I'd done, and I only remember her smacking me on two occasions.

Both - such as the time I lit a firework and almost caused an elderly neighbour to jump out of her skin - were well deserved. I think I grew up to be a fairly well-adjusted adult.

But these days it's difficult to comprehend the lunatic lengths we go to when a child does something wrong. The stark reality was brought home to me by a letter shown to me by a colleague recently. It was going to be sent to Kim's parents. Kim, it seemed, was a very naughty 12-year-old, about to be permanently excluded. The school had gone to extraordinary trouble to avoid this, but had finally run out of ideas.

When she first started to misbehave, Kim had been placed on daily report, initially to her form tutor and then to the head of year. Later, several pastoral plans had been devised for her. They hadn't worked. Then, mentoring and counselling from an external clinical psychologist. That didn't worked either, so a consultant organised a special routine to help her when she encountered difficulties during lessons. The consultant presumably walked away with his cheque without giving any guarantees, because Kim's behaviour simply worsened.

She spent some time in a special referral unit. Then the school tried to re-integrate her with the help of an independent behaviour adviser. Kim and her parents signed a special behaviour agreement. No change, so the school devised a unique support plan, and a local authority representative was called in to agree to it.

None of these strategies was successful, and Kim continued to be insolent, defiant, and aggressive. In desperation one morning, a teacher asked Kim if she could simply go to her class and stop shouting. Kim became even louder, called to her mates to watch her and took a large carton of orange juice from her bag. She hurled it with force at the wall, causing the contents to shower over everyone, then threatened to beat up anybody who came near her.

Despite this appalling behaviour, "procedure" had to be followed. A meeting with the governing body and a checklist of 20 criteria had to be discussed before any action could be taken. Had there been appropriate early intervention? Was the child responding to provocation, bullying, racial or sexual harassment? Had achievements (Dear God!) been rewarded? On and on the list went. If any of this procedure hadn't been followed, Kim's parents could have had a field-day.

And then, of course, the child's rights. If, for example, the parents thought that the exclusion related to a disability Kim had, then they would have been within their rights to consider whether "disability discrimination" had taken place and take the appropriate action against the school.

As far as I can see, the whole system has gone barking bloody mad. Can you imagine what all this has cost? Not just in money, but in time - teacher hours, form-filling, letter-writing - and stress for everyone concerned.

It's a wonder there's any time left for teaching the children who do want to learn.

And is it possible, just possible, that a good smack at an appropriate point would have been a darn sight more productive? My mother would have thought so.

The Rabbit's Laid an Egg, Miss! Life as a London Headteacher, a collection of Mike Kent's TES columns, is published by Trentham Books. To buy it for the discount price of pound;12 plus pound;1.50 pp (usual price pound;13.99 plus pp), please contact tb@trentham-books.co.uk or telephone 01782 745567

Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary in Camberwell, south London

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