Hang on, who's in charge?

25th September 2009 at 01:00

A school was recently ordered to apologise for excluding a disabled child. Fair enough, I thought, assuming the child was physically handicapped.

But as I read on, I learned that the disability was ADHD. The boy had assaulted a member of staff and had "a tendency towards physical abuse". The school felt it had done everything possible for the child and that ADHD did not amount to a disability.

The case went to tribunal, where the school was ruled guilty of discrimination. It mounted a legal challenge and the judge upheld the tribunal's view. I suppose he had to, or the floodgates would have opened because countless teachers battle against disruptive children every day of their teaching lives.

Mr Justice Jones also said the school had "failed to take reasonable steps to ensure the child was not placed at a substantial disadvantage with the pupils who were not disabled".

Well, I'm sorry, but this is nonsense. What advice would Mr Jones have for the poor teacher trying to cope with this child in her classroom? I can hear the answer now. "I'm not an expert on such matters. I merely have to consider the law."

An official from an attention deficit charity also gave her view: if a child with ADHD assaults a teacher, you must ask what the teacher did to push the child over the edge. But hang on, isn't the teacher supposed to be in charge of the class? Does she have to pussyfoot around Charlie all day in case he throws something at her or screams at her to fuck off? And if she does pussyfoot, won't Charlie take advantage of that?

Any headteacher could relay countless tales of supply teachers struggling with classes they don't know, because many children explore behavioural boundaries given half a chance. They always have.

I have been at my inner-city primary for years and I am extremely fortunate in having an exceptional staff, a stable school and virtually no disruptive behaviour.

Over the years we have established clear behaviour guidelines, but that doesn't mean we don't have our moments. I remember Stanton, also "diagnosed" with ADHD.

He was difficult from the start and couldn't sit still for more than five minutes. He jumped on children, punched them, swore at them and showed no social graces whatsoever.

As we got to know his background, we learned that his current stepfather - one of a number - would constantly play fighting games with him or let him watch inappropriate films. There were no rules. He slept when he liked, ate whatever he could find and wore the same ill-fitting clothes for days. Breakfast was unheard of.

When Mum delivered him to class, late, she usually passed him a bag of sweets and some crisps. Essentially, it wasn't really Mum's fault; she had had an appalling upbringing, little schooling, and could barely read or write. To compensate, she filled his life with toys and sweets, but I never saw her have a conversation with him. The more we learned, the more we felt there was no normality in Stanton's life whatsoever.

But there was normality in school, and with the help of his three caring, dedicated infant teachers, who set extremely clear boundaries and went to enormous lengths to help him read, write and connect with others, he at least moved into the junior department without us worrying that he might wallop a teacher or wreck the place.

But even in my school, with its high standard of behaviour, it took a heavy toll on all three teachers.

God knows what children like this must be doing in some schools. The case Mr Justice Jones ruled on is probably the tip of the iceberg.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London e-mail: mikejkent@aol.com.

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