Stop the violence now

9th December 2005 at 00:00
A secondary teacher reveals the raw facts behind the debate over the right of schools to exclude pupils whose aggression cannot be curbed

he other week, for the first and I hope only time in 30 years of teaching, I was interviewed by the police as a consequence of an incident a few yards from the door of my classroom. Fear not. My reputation is intact and I have been commended by my headteacher for "doing exactly the right thing". But it could so easily have turned out otherwise.

It began in a way that old hands in the teaching game will readily recognise. About to take the register in my class, I became aware of a minor disturbance in the corridor. A slight pause and then some shouting.

Another slight pause and . . . mayhem. From total quiet to total mayhem in five seconds.

Reaching the corridor, I saw two figures. One was a female member of staff.

"Calm down John, calm down" - a request which the pupil, a boy with a history of aggressive outbursts, was all too obviously ignoring in his efforts to get past her. He was totally out of control, shouting or rather screaming, "I'll get the c***t", and similar phrases. I later discovered that he had been given a fat lip by a "pal" in a ludicrously trivial incident outwith school the previous evening.

What to do? I have always counselled caution in such incidents. A steady approach. A loud shout to get the attention of witnesses. But never, ever, physical intervention.

I grabbed him, of course. I was a little more circumspect than this suggests, but I grabbed him nevertheless. I repeated the request to calm down, but I might as well have been calling down from a passing jumbo jet.

I then put my arms around his shoulders and tried to lock his arms to his side. For the next minute or so (it seemed much longer), we bounced around the corridor, locked together. I, hanging on desperately. He, just as desperate in his attempts to free himself and, all the while, screaming like a teenage boy with "anger management issues".

We blundered from the corridor into the staircase area. My room is on the top floor. "Not a good idea, John. You don't want to fall down the stairs."

I could feel my grip loosening as he struggled and, rather than take the chance of both of us tumbling down the stairs, I let him go and he took off. I resisted the temptation to pursue. One rule I have always stuck by in a long teaching career: pursuit of a fleeing pupil is at best undignified and at worst dangerous, as long as he or she poses no immediate threat to themselves or others.

I returned to my register class who were being looked after by a departmental colleague. They were agog even more so at the splattered blood on my shirt which, until then, I had not noticed. The burst lip "John" had been given by his adversary had done it as we had struggled.

Meanwhile, as I later discovered, the bold boy had not in fact left the building. Incredibly, he had doubled back to his point of origin, still intent on attacking the pupil who had wounded him. By then, a male depute had arrived and was struggling to contain "John" on the same landing where I had been forced to release him. Eyewitnesses tell me that the depute was very nearly pitched over the banister before, eventually, containing and calming him. Shortly after, the police arrived. And yes, he is being charged.

The following day all the staff who had been involved were commended for preventing a serious incident becoming even more serious, perhaps even fatal. We were offered counselling as well as congratulations. No one, as far as I know, took up the offer.

I checked the boy's record, which had more than 80 disciplinary referrals, not including the last. It really is time that local authorities woke up to the danger posed by pupils such as "John". They must either provide a much expanded external support service for schools or they must allow headteachers the untrammelled right to permanently exclude after the first outburst of aggressive or violent behaviour.

This incident took place in the same week in which a girl at a school in England was stabbed and nearly blinded. Fortunately, on this occasion, "John" was not carrying a knife. However, the chances are that, even as you read this, in a school somewhere in Scotland another "John" is so equipped.

God forbid that it should take a life to finally force local authorities to do what they should have done years ago.

The author is a teacher in a central Scotland secondary school.

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