Early education, interrupted

3rd October 2008 at 01:00

If any teacher were to ask a colleague to nominate the most frustrating, annoying and time-consuming pupils in their school, the chances are very high that the same half-dozen names would emerge. To add to the tragedy, the chances are very high that many of these pupils would be cared for.

So we know absolutely that it is not their fault. These kids have been so badly damaged, both by inadequate (if not atrocious) parenting and by an overstretched and under-resourced care system, that they cannot function in a big school.

They can't cope with the rules, the inflexibility of timetables and teachers. Usually, their early education has been interrupted, so they cannot cope with the academic work either. They want to have friends, but can't work out how to make and keep them. We don't know what hell they've been through, what nightly fears they face - but nor can we cope with their daily troublemaking.

As teachers, we shouldn't have to take the abuse, usually verbal but sometimes emotional and occasionally physical. It's demeaning to be spoken to in such ways, and it can also make us very angry - especially when there seem to be no sanctions applied. For these children, however, who are actually desperate to fit in, and deeply unhappy, there are no sanctions that work.

But this is a plea for the other pupils. They fall into two categories. First, there are the decent kids who are trying their best and are frustrated at every corner by the daily disruption. They will not achieve what they should, because they have so few uninterrupted lessons where staff can just get on and teach.

The second group are the kids who enjoy the disruption, who lean back grinning broadly, watching the fun. They join in, happily abandoning jotters and learning. These are the ones I could swing for, because they have no excuse.

We need small units for children who cannot cope in school, and who need specialist help from staff who are trained to handle them, with soft, safe "time out" space and work that is carefully graded to give them a sense of achievement. I don't care how much it costs - because the price the other pupils and their teachers are being forced to pay while they ricochet through our schools is far higher.

Penny Ward is a secondary teacher.

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