Pupils I'll never forget

17th October 2003 at 01:00
Headteacher Dennis Richards was bowled over by a likeable maiden called Clare

I started my teaching career in Grimethorpe, Barnsley, and I will never forget Crocker, who was arrested for pinching the goldfish from the school pond. But I've been head for 15 years in Harrogate, so it has to be Clare, because she brought home to me the enormity of what some children have to cope with.

She was brought up by her mother, and her life was very isolated. It wasn't just the lack of money in the family, but also the lack of affection. She was very confused about her identity and often drank alcohol in school. She had a fearsome aunt, who would come and collect her when she was drunk. She could be aggressive in class, found it difficult to make friends, and regularly turned up outside my office. But there was so much about her that was likeable and interesting.

She was the classic case of a pupil for whom you felt life could have turned out so differently in different circumstances. She responded if you showed enthusiasm. We encouraged her to join the army cadets and she made a good job of it. She could be proud like that.

She came to my attention when we noticed that she never went on school trips. It turned out her mother would never turn to the school for financial support and, because she couldn't afford the trips, Clare never went. I tackled the mother over this and said the school had a confidential fund for such cases and that she was denying Clare vital opportunities. I think Clare respected me for that. She turned to her dad, who lived apart, to help out financially, and she hoped he'd do the right thing by her. But he let her down hopelessly and pathetically, and I will never forget her face when he did.

Staff were not that keen for her to go on trips because of her reputation for drinking, but she did go in the end, and she never let me down. I remember her going on a trip to Bewley Park outdoor pursuits centre. She was very athletic and strong, and she just loved it. Because of Clare, we now monitor every child and make sure they go on at least one residential trip during their time here.

I'm well known for being a cricket nut, and when she left, Clare presented me with a cricket ball mounted on a wooden plinth - I suppose she must have made it in design and technology - with the inscription: "Thanks for all your support, love Clare". It's still on my desk.

Dennis Richards is headteacher of St Aidan's Church of England high school, Harrogate. He was talking to Elaine Williams.Do you have special memories of unforgettable pupils? Write to Sarah Bayliss at the address on page 3 or email sarah.bayliss@tes.co.uk

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