It was about time that the Department for Children, Schools and Families shed a few unnecessary nouns. The Department for Education - this new slimmed down soubriquet says it all. Thanks to Uncle David and his swingeing grammatical cuts every child no longer matters. And I'm glad. The Every Child Matters agenda was always on a hiding to nothing because, as you and I know, all children are equal, but some are more equal than others.
Take my school, for instance. Some kids here have had more unfair chances and undeserved opportunities than Peaches Geldof. How else could someone with less talent than a tin of tuna become a media icon? Had her dad not been so successful at feeding the world, then she too would be feeding the world - with Big Macs and fries.
Inequality is rife wherever you work, and in schools some pupils get more chances than a blind dog in a game of Top Trumps. Surprisingly, we are not talking about the rich kids here, or the geeky gifted and talented. No, the pupils who really exploit the system are the ones that the new coalition is offering to support with double bonus points in the way of a pupil premium on a Buy One Bash Street Kid Get One Teacher Free deal. These are the kids with rickets, homemade piercings and six-month suspended sentences and, unsurprisingly, they experience quite a pampered time in the classroom. "No homework again, Lee? Never mind, have a merit sticker and a Refresher bar."
In order to keep kids like this "on side", teachers often employ radical behaviour management strategies such as ignoring their constant use of chewing gum, mobiles and vodka shots. These difficult characters sail through school untouched, unchecked and largely uneducated until the final end-of-year prize-giving when they are awarded the sports day cup and the merit trophy, saving them the bother of breaking into the school to remove them at a later date.
The frustrating thing is that disruptive behaviour and unruly pupils are often left to classroom teachers to deal with on their own. Occasionally, by following school discipline procedures to the letter and sacrificing any hope you had of professional advancement, you can force a head of year to intervene. But it is a pyrrhic victory. The pupil who told you to "Go fuck yourself" and savagely impugned your mother, citing an act of gross indecency with a camel, is swept into the HoY's office, praised for his prowess on the football field, chided for his cavalier attitude to his school tie and returned to your classroom.
When management fails to step up, the role of class teacher becomes intolerable and you are left feeling desperate and alone. A couple of recognised, failsafe strategies to deal with difficult kids is to leave them to their own devices until the police catch up with them, or tailor their learning experience through differentiation using must, should and could.
By the end of today's lesson on Macbeth you:
- must not harm your partner;
- should not overtly masturbate;
- could limit your mephedrone use to the plenary.
The sad thing is that while you are haemorrhaging your time and resources on Karl and Chelsea, the rest of the class struggles silently on. Their learning is sacrificed for a troublesome few because although Every Child Matters, Every Challenging Child matters even more.
Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England.