The day my life changed - Violence and abuse went unpunished: I'm no quitter, but I wasn't going back

15th April 2011 at 01:00

I took early retirement following a major operation, but once I was feeling well enough I took some supply work with an agency and was asked to go to a children's home as a general teacher.

On the first day, when I arrived, there was no one at reception. I was eventually spotted by someone who turned out to be the one permanent teacher, Shaun*. His appearance didn't bode well - he looked like an ageing rock musician.

Once in the classroom, I took in my surroundings. There were no resources and most of the windows were broken. I received no induction and it was clear there was no planning of the day's activities. I wasn't even shown where the toilets were and there were no breaks in the schedule.

The children were abusive on arrival and swore openly at staff. In my career, I have been sworn at many times by children in difficult situations, but constant, unprovoked swearing at staff was new to me.

The home was a private one, taking children whose parents or foster parents couldn't cope. Many were already in trouble with the police. It seemed to me that too many new children were admitted at the same time, leading to all kinds of friction as they sorted out their pecking order.

The day kicked off badly when one boy assaulted my new colleague, Shaun. No consequences were attached to the assault and, as a result, the rest of the children went wild and rampaged around the place attempting to kick down three sets of doors. Stones and small racks were hurled at staff and the teaching areas.

A teaching assistant, who was confined to an office for fear of being assaulted, was violently threatened by a boy who attempted to gain entry to the room by battering down the door that she had locked to protect herself.

Eventually, residential staff from the home were summoned to restrain the children. However, I was very unhappy to witness the force with which they did this. Arms were routinely twisted behind backs.

There were no clear rules of behaviour or sanctions in evidence. I had to contend with being grabbed from behind by one of the boys who would even put his arms around my neck. Pens and pencils were lobbed across the classroom whenever we tried to do any work. One of the kids tried to wrest my watch off my wrist.

At lunchtime, some of the kids went off into the grounds where three of them smoked joints from a large packet of dope. Amazingly, I was asked to supervise them doing this. My professionalism was completely compromised and so I refused.

Later that afternoon, Shaun and I were working with some of the kids in a catering classroom. Two of the girls stole a knife and went in search of another girl with whom they had fallen out. Shaun locked the classroom we were in.

The day had been difficult enough, but I was then asked to work with one of the boys and a teaching assistant. The boy threatened to throw a drink over me if I sat with him so I moved away to be next to the teaching assistant sitting opposite, but he threw the drink over me anyway. No action was taken and I came to a decision.

I have never given up on a task and I am no quitter, but I made up my mind that I wouldn't be coming back. This was way too much to cope with. I had worked for 30 years in some of the roughest areas of London, including pupil referral units, but nothing had prepared me for this.

*Name has been changed

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