Striking parallels

24th May 1996 at 01:00
I am a male supply teacher. I was recently assaulted by an 11-year-old boy. I had written his name on the whiteboard, after seven or eight verbal warnings. I blocked his path as he walked up to the front in a fury; he stood back and struck me.

He's not a big boy for his age. His fist hit my lower forearm, then he turned to take out the rest of his rage on the desk behind him.

I wasn't injured, physically or psychologically, and didn't feel frightened that he could really hurt me. But a threshold had been crossed, from mere verbal abuse - extremely common in secondary schools - to physical assault, which is still infrequent in this school. I was offered neither counselling nor consolation from the senior staff. Nor was I made aware of the procedure which would follow.

A bunch of Year 7 pupils in the playground let me know the "facts" of the case. Apparently, I had punched the boy in the face, I had punched him in the stomach and such were his injuries that his mother had called the police. I was the aggressor now.

The pupil witnesses when interviewed - individually - supported my case and the pupil was excluded - but only for two days. This was increased to one and a half weeks after I informed my union, though the official explanation for getting tougher with the boy was that it hadn't been clear he'd actually struck me. (That seemed odd when in my account I'd written "HE HIT ME HARD ON THE FOREARM" in block capitals.) The senior management may have wanted to play down a "harmless" assault against a supply teacher. It would only serve to illustrate their impotence in the face of such incidents and further fuel teachers' anxieties about discipline. But if this was their main concern, then the system is failing.

I asked the deputy head why the boy was not permanently excluded. This boy was in his first year; surely, such malice in one so young did not augur well for the school? I was told that such exclusions must be approved by the governors. His diplomacy did not disguise the fact that the school and its governors were often directly opposed on such cases. The deputy head believed a permanent exclusion was unlikely, despite the pupil's already "colourful career".

However, pupils in schools such as this - many of whom struggle inside a moral vacuum - are seeing justice and fairness seriously distorted. The net result is an ever-declining value system. Malicious actions that a pupil cannot justify are being seen to go unpunished. To hide the weakness and lack of control in the school, offences are sometimes swept under the carpet.

Some heads and governors would serve their schools well by adopting a more straightforward approach that supports their staff better. Pupils such as the boy who hit me fracture an already insecure and under-resourced education system. There must be some attempt to redress the imbalance before hitting teachers becomes as common as swearing at them.

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