Humiliation is the last thing a child needs

21st April 1995 at 01:00
A home tutor introduces a look at exclusion from the pupil's point of view.

I am a home tutor in an outer London borough. One of the girls I teach has been permanently excluded from school in spite of seeming bright, sensitive and intelligent to me. She is working hard and I hope she will be able to sit her GCSEs, although her tuition amounts to only six hours a week.

My pupil is no saint, and she is the first to acknowledge it. But exclusion has made her a victim. It is a tragedy which shouldn't have happened. She decided to write a piece about her school experiences which may help some teachers understand better the obstacles that some children face. Here it is: "OK, so we hear all the time about my age group being a problem to schools.

"Perhaps we are, but it's not all one-sided. As teachers get weighed down with increasing paperwork and the demands of the national curriculum, they seem more impatient to us and not so keen to explain the difficult bits. They shout or use sarcasm.

"Don't they realise how humiliating that is? Didn't they ever go to school themselves? Have they forgotten the sheer hell of being shown up in front of your mates?

"Take me, for example. Primary school was good. It was safe and friendly and I did well. Then came the break at 11 and my life changed. I settled in quite quickly at secondary school; I was very quiet and didn't know many people. The problems didn't really start until near the end of my second year. It was then I started having difficulty with my work.

"I tried explaining this to my teachers and even asked to be moved to a lower group. But the more I asked for help, the more I heard the same answer: 'No, you're not stupid; of course you can do the work. You've been in this school long enough now.' "I heard this over and over again. It went on for a few months with me still receiving no help. The teachers started humiliating me in front of the whole class by telling everyone that I got the lowest marks. I was constantly in detention or on report for not completing any work, but what they would not understand was that I wanted to learn and I wanted to work. I just needed some help.

"Anyway, by this time I couldn't take any more. I started to truant a lot. To start with I would just miss a few lessons, but then I started missing days, weeks, months even, and if I did go to school I just caused trouble. I don't know why, and I know it was wrong, but I suppose it was my way of coping.

"I saw it was the teachers who were making it hard for me, so I would make it hard for them and I would disrupt the whole class. If I got bored with a lesson I would just get up and walk out. If the teachers said anything I would call them names, throw things and swear at them. Afterwards I felt guilty, but still believed they deserved it.

"If the class was quiet, my friends would rely on me to cause trouble, and I always did. Like a fool I would do it, even though I knew it was wrong. Now everyone knew me, I had a name and a reputation, and I had to live up to expectations.

"It was all a waste of time. I never got the help I needed and the teachers never changed. In fact they got worse. They would say things to me like: 'Why do you bother coming to this school? We don't want you here!' There's nothing worse than feeling unwanted.

"Anyway, this went on for about a year until the school had had enough. They sent me to a tuition centre. I was only there for about six weeks, but I learned so much and I really enjoyed it.

"But my six weeks ended and it was time to go back to school. It took me a month to find the courage to go back because I was scared it would be the same as before. And I was right. I still did not receive the help I needed.

"After two months I was expelled, this time through no fault of my own. I took the blame for something I had not done. I'm not trying to say that teachers don't get it rough, because they do. But so do the students. A teacher's job is to teach, not just expect us to be able to do every piece of work put in front of us."

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