David Watson on the dubious comforts of a pupil's home

28th July 2000 at 01:00
David Watson on the dubious comforts of a pupil's home Jeff and I sit slumped at the bar with our pints of Adnams. Another Friday. Another week.

"I need a new base for a home tutor," mutters Jeff. "Any ideas?"

As I am unsure whether this is a base for some new student I haven't spotted - or a move for an existing one - I remain silent.

"Mrs What's-her-name, the new woman. She got spooked at Azzie's."

I would have thought Azzie's was the last place to get spooked at. Clean and tidy is our Azzie. Mother's a nurse, I hear. Works hard, does Azzie - if prone to the odd nap in the afternoon.

"Heard strange noises from upstairs. Not the first time. Like someone rhythmically thumping the floor. Then there was a shout, a clattering on the stairs and Azzie's mum appears at the door dressed in not a lot and demanding Azzie goes up to help." Jeff grins before returning to his beer.

"I don't think her mum's a nurse, either. Answered the door in a gymslip one time and tennis outfit another." He pauses. "With stilettos and black stockings."

A new slant on care in the community, by the sound of it. I juggle with the child protection regulations before remembering Azzie is over 16. As I try to make the connection with Azzie's need for an afternoon nap, Jeff continues.

"Does sex aid parties, too. Boxes of stuff in the corner of the room they were using last week, so I understand. Gets her husband and the kids to help with sorting and packing. So I need a new site. Can't have my tutors getting themselves into a panic."

While this problem may only be responding to a tutor's sensitivities, it does raise the issue of how safe our home tutors really are. Schools exclude students. They are referred to us at the pupil referral unit. The authority wants us to get them sorted and back into school agin, pronto.

We have an effect on some. They are beginning to respond and get that enthusiasm for learning again. But others are not. We must educate them, but having them at the unit is counter-productive. It aggravates staff. It encourages those kids starting to respond to go back to their anti-social ways. So we often have to start the process by working with kids off site.

The easiest place is home. Get agreement from the parents. They sign the contract to say they will be there to act as chaperone. But it doesn't mean they will sit in the room with tutor and student. It doesn't mean that if something goes wrong they will be able to do anything. It doesn't offer the level of protection I should give my staff.

Recently we have introduced a risk assessment routine for our new students.

A series of questions about how they respond in a range of settings and how violent they might be. Result of the director of education's last visit.

Thought he was being friendly so he stood behind a kid and patted him on the shoulder. Kid thought he was being arrested again and leapt up ready to lay one on who-ever-it-was.

But no thought about the sites we send tutors to. Colleagues at other units don't use the home as a venue for one-to-one tuition. Many don't offer the option. Come to the unit, work in a school - or nothing.

But there needs to be something - another venue for those too disruptive for the unit; another venue for those refusniks who find the unit too scary. But not Azzie's place. Suddenly the words "chaperone" and "Azzie's mum" don't go together.

There's always the drive-in on the bypass, I suppose. Come to that, I think there's a back room here at the pub. I wonder if we would get a discount as regulars.

David Watson works in a pupilreferral unit in East Anglia

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