Never give up on the grey kids

13th August 2010 at 01:00

Ten years ago a friend of ours gave birth to a boy. Jake was two months premature and seriously ill. My wife went to see him for what she thought would be the only time. He was not expected to survive the night. Even the dedicated staff at the specialist baby care unit had given up on him.

"It's terrible," she sobbed over the telephone. "I've never seen anything so pathetic. He's so tiny he would fit in the palm of my hand, and the worst thing is, he has no colour. He's grey; almost transparent. You can see his tiny organs flickering beneath his skin. And you know that very soon he will give in completely and his little life will be snuffed out like a candle."

Sometimes you have to fight and kick and scream in order to survive. And sometimes, if you can't do it for yourself, somebody has to do it for you. Jake's mother did just that and somehow she galvanised everybody, including Jake and his team of carers, into renewed effort. Ten years later I am pleased to announce that Jake can fight and kick and scream for himself.

But what about Rogan? He arrived in our school a couple of years ago after several other schools had given up on him. No one looking from the outside would have put money on him surviving for very long with us either.

Rogan is a grey child. You can tell grey children because they look ... well ... grey. It comes from years of never having had a proper wash, never eating a healthy diet and never getting a good night's sleep. It comes from hanging around grey streets until the grey hours and consorting with grey people who inhabit the grey margins of a grey council estate.

There is no obvious incentive for tough schools like ours to nurture its grey children. With barely surmountable floor targets looming ahead of us and the hounds of Ofsted closing in behind, the last thing we need are children who will make learning even more difficult for themselves and everybody around them.

If we were cynical, our best hope would be that they will either drift through the system like grey ghosts and leave no trace other than a few poor percentage points, or that they will scream, kick, rant and swear their way to a pupil referral unit.

Rogan remained with us until he left at the end of Year 6. His Sats scores were not good and his contribution to that grim ledger of attainment was a negative one. In truth, by the time he came to our school he was already damaged goods; unfit for the purpose of achieving in line with national expectations, and if we weren't in the business of education no one could have blamed us for doing our damn best to return him under the Sale of Goods Act.

Fortunately for Rogan, we don't give up on grey children. For us, Every Child Matters. Every child who screams, kicks, rants and swears at us matters. Every child who - because of the shit hand life has dealt them, treats us like shit - still matters. They matter because we may be the nearest thing to a family they have ever known, and our care for them must be unconditional.

Rogan came to the leavers' party looking significantly less grey. He wore a suit staff had bought for him and a grin that was priceless. After all, it's good to bring a little colour into this dull, data-obsessed education system of ours, isn't it?

Steve Eddison is a key stage 2 teacher in Sheffield

Mike Kent is on holiday.

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