Neither a stickler nor a pushover be

30th March 2007 at 01:00
One day, in that distant galaxy where I was a head, a woman came up to me after a parents' assembly to moan about the girl who'd been sitting in front of her.

"She had about half a dozen earrings in each ear," she said. "I thought you had a rule about that."

I sighed that sigh that all heads know and replied: "That's right. We do have a rule. She shouldn't be wearing them."

"Well," she said (and here I had to stop myself from joining in the chorus), "what are you going to do about it?"

"I've told her many times," I said. "I've written to her parents. I've had them in and suggested various ways forward. Each time they've agreed, then gone away and forgotten about it. Now, what do you want me to do next?"

I ran through the options with her. Forcibly remove these baubles? Clearly not. Suspend her from school? No. The woman, a reasonable person at heart, agreed that this wouldn't be appropriate. Did she have any other suggestions? No. We agreed that provided we maintained a good relationship with most parents, we'd just deal with the rest as best we could. After all, most people have been around long enough to know that life has unfair lumps that have to be swallowed. Frankness and an admission of my own fallibility worked, as these often did.

I suppose the word here is "tolerance". I thought of this when a head - not one from the distant past, but someone dealing with today's very real and alarming world - pointed out to me recently one of many contradictions in policy brought about by government's in-built need to try to please everyone simultaneously. "We're urged to have both 'full inclusion' and 'zero tolerance of bad behaviour'," he said. "How exactly is that supposed to work?"

I was reminded of the twin noticeboards outside a large school in one of our cities. One says "Somesuch Community School". The other says "Keep Out".

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