Real life in class

14th January 2005 at 00:00
What are the signs of incipient middle age? A preference for Radio 2 or Radio 4 rather than Radio 1? A momentary inclination to replace cereal in the fridge at breakfast? The observation that one's arms are simply not long enough when one sits down to read The TES Scotland? Agreeing with Chris Woodhead?

Whoa! Hold up there? Chris Woodhead? Former chief inspector of schools in England? The nemesis of comprehensive schools? Yes. It has come to that. I can't agree with Mr Woodhead's views on many things but the article simply pointed out the truth.

Secondary schools are being destroyed by a social inclusion policy which forces them to accept a tiny minority of very damaged pupils into our schools. The policy denies those same schools the resources they require to adequately address the needs of those children.

Add to this an equally tiny minority of spineless and inadequate head teachers and politicians who refuse to accept reality and the result is at best depressing and at worst devastating in terms of a school's educational achievement.

One day's experience of my S4 Standard grade class was typical. It contains a number of children, perhaps even a majority, who present varying degrees of challenge. There is child A who constantly chatters and distracts. When asked not to do this, her response is never to accept the rebuke.

She believes that attack is the best form of defence. "Why are ye always getting on tae me? Why no a'body else?" Meanwhile, child B has used the opportunity presen-ted to call out swear words. He has already been warned by school managers. Quite an able boy, he is as far as I know, not suffering from any clinical condition.

Child C has serious learning difficulties. His written work is all but illegible. Support has been offered in the form of "write on" sheets, a lap top computer etc. These have been rejected, possibly and understandably, because they mark out child C as being different. They also get in the way of his main interest - distracting other pupils by being the class clown.

Child D also has serious learning difficulties. Like his colleague, he shows no signs of wanting to address these. His way of dealing with difficulties is to throw things around the room, for which he has been excluded on a number of occasions.

Child E and Child F have recently been moved into the set from the Credit set. This was to make way for two pupils who had been working hard, against all odds, in my class and deserved a break and a shot at Credit grades.

Child E and Child F see the behaviour of others in the class and are clearly de-motivated.

Child G was also moved from the Credit set some time ago. He was doing no work at all. This has not changed. The child is receiving medical treatment for depression. He has my sympathy but nothing else has been provided for him by the school or its partner agencies in social inclusion. He has had discussions with a faceless (to me) member of the community school support team. No feedback or advice has been offered to teaching staff.

Child H persisted in using her phone while I was explaining the day's work.

Apparently her grandmother was ill but clearly not so ill that the parents had allowed H to take time off school. Removing the phone caused further disruption to the lesson. Later in the day, H forgot to collect the item from the school office.

The reality is that pupils like those described above are simply part of the daily fare in many classes in today's secondary schools. Generally speaking, they provide distraction and obstruction and require patience, humour and skilled teaching to make any progress in learning. They are not often directly challenging. As Mr Woodhead says, we "muddle through".

However, there are, in addition to these, other pupils who reg-ularly provide much more serious challenge. They too are not often violent in their behaviour but, on a daily basis, they are extremely disruptive. It is the combination of these two groups, the difficult and obstructive but teachable and the repeatedly and aggressively disruptive, which is causing the current behaviour crisis in Scotland's schools.

There's pupil J who has shown no interest whatsoever in any form of education since the day he walked, late, into the school. His standard response to any interaction with myself or any other teacher, including the head is "I couldnae care less". Pupil J has been excluded from school innumerable times. Each time, he has been readmitted with or without assurances from a parent who is quite clearly incapable of ensuring his good behaviour in school or anywhere else.

Next to pupil J sits pupil L. This boy has "anger management issues". Some time ago, during a lesson, he squared up to and came very close to attacking me. For the only time (so far) in a long teaching career, I reported the incident to the police who interviewed and cautioned the boy.

Save for a short period of isolation from the class, nothing was done by the school.

Pupil M has spent considerable periods in care but has recently been reunited with his substance-abusing parent. I have a lot of sympathy for M but I still have to teach the class. When I try to help him, he rejects this. When I ask him to work harder, he is abusive.

I owe my own education to the comprehensive school. However, a comprehensive school in which teachers and pupils face the combination of challenges presented by my S4 class is a comprehensive school which has been betrayed. Scotland's politicians must be made to face that uncomfortable fact. Comprehensive education is the real social inclusion policy which is under threat.

The writer teaches in a central Scotland secondary

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