Difficult pupils need help beyond pillorying

31st May 1996 at 01:00
It is reported that the father of the pupil with behavioural difficulties at the centre of an exclusion controversy has died from a suspected heart attack. Does this leave Nigel de Gruchy, his union the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, and the national press still feeling "triumphant" at their treatment of the pupil and his family?

My own experience at the age of 13 of such sudden bereavement leaves me in no doubt about the depth of trauma which would, whatever the circumstances, be experienced by this unfortunate boy. How much worse, then must it now be for him? But whether it intensifies his hostility to his teachers and to the media, or sends him into a spiralling crisis of self-blame (both normal enough reactions to his father's death in such circumstances), so tragic a combination of events can only increase his problems, and make even more difficult any attempt he can now make to face and cope with the world.

And can we not think more seriously about those many children with behavioural problems, and find some way of actually helping them? May I repeat Peter Wilson's warning (TES, May 3)? He said: "Many difficult pupils feel a sense of being neglected and abandoned and expelling them can do nothing but make that worse and exacerbate their anti-social behaviour. It's the most appalling thing to do to a human."

This is obviously not a problem which teachers can solve on their own, as Chris Searle found when his valiant attempts to contain disruptive pupils within his own school was rewarded by the loss of his job. But surely the tragedy now facing this family should make clear the urgent need for serious reconsideration of the present Government policies in education, and for some more effective ways of approaching this particular problem than merely punishing and pillorying disruptive children and retiring those teachers who do make some effort to help them.

WINIFRED WHITEHEAD 26 Victoria Road Sheffield

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