The rebirth of Ryan

14th March 1997 at 00:00
Ryan is 11 years old. He was excluded from his last school. How did it all go wrong? He liked sport, was good at art, but he often refused to work, especially if it was maths. This is what happened.

The teacher asked him to do the work, he refused; the teacher ordered him, he refused. Then the teacher got angry, Ryan slammed down his pencil, folded his arms and shouted, "You can't tell me what to do." The teacher asked him to leave the room, he refused. The teacher ordered him out of the room, he stomped out, slamming the door, and kept walking, straight through the school and out into the street. The alarm was raised and he was found.

The pressure built up. Reports started to filter through that things were wrong at home. Ryan used to stay with his father at weekends, but now this arrangement was breaking down because his father was ill and in and out of hospital. He tried his best with maths, and at weekends his uncle made him do extra sums. His uncle was trying to help, but it made Ryan hate it even more.

His teacher knew that he found maths hard and that he needed help. But Ryan was rude to the teacher, and his tantrums became more physical. He started to lose his temper over minor things. The teacher could not be seen to back down. He told Ryan off for not wearing proper uniform; Ryan threw a chair at the teacher and ran off. He was put in detention on a day when his father was in hospital; he refused to attend.

He ran from these escalating conflicts to wherever he could get away: into the toilets, into the playground, and out of school. One day there was nowhere to run because he was cornered in the playground, so he climbed onto the canteen roof and threatened to jump off. He came down only when his mother was called, and that was when the school decided they had had enough. He was permanently excluded.

In an ideal world Ryan would have got immediate help for his difficulty with maths, before things got this bad. He would also have been given some help to cope with his home life and to overcome his anxiety about his father's health. But there he was, 11 years old and permanently excluded from school.

It took a while to find a school in the local authority to accept him; word travels fast these days. He was given an admission date and a classroom assistant for a few hours for the first couple of weeks. Six months later, and he's still there. He has not been in serious trouble. Why?

He has been given some time to talk to a sympathetic teacher every day, if he wants to. Does he talk about why he used to get into trouble? Why he used to get into fights and arguments with teachers? Why he finds it difficult to manage his temper? Or does he say what's going on at home?

No, mostly he talks about how difficult it is for him to do the work. He hates doing maths because he doesn't understand it. He panics before maths lessons and feels like running away. If he has maths homework, he pretends to lose it. His new teacher acknowledges that he's having problems, which defuses much of the potential conflict. They set small and achievable targets together. It's not all plain sailing, but if he continues to meet this sympathetic attitude from his teachers, he'll probably be all right.

This boy was excluded for behaviour which had more to do with his difficulty with maths than with anything else. His home life didn't make things any easier, but he would still have had problems even if his home had been stable.

It is depressing to find children like Ryan being excluded from school. Is exclusion just a new way of getting rid of children like him, whose special needs happen to manifest themselves in aggressive behaviour? Should he not have been shown more sympathy? And what about those children who suffer similar anxieties in silence? They don't get excluded, but they too need help.

The author is a teacher in the South-east of England

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