Thank God it's Friday

29th July 2005 at 01:00
Monday James bounces in to the family centre, carrying a piece of paper. At 15, he struggles with reading and writing. His passion is astronomy. Today he's going to telephone Sir Patrick Moore, and he's written down three questions. I'd read that Patrick Moore welcomes young enthusiasts ringing him, so encourage James to call. With a trembling hand, he picks up the phone. Soon he's having an animated discussion about Jupiter, Hubble and Sir Patrick's missing cat. He puts down the phone and bursts into tears.

Patrick Moore had said "Good luck in the future, young man," in such a kind voice that it brought tears.

Tuesday Laura and Holly, both looked-after children, are doing maths.

Laura's boyfriend's in trouble with the police and emotions are running high. She snuggles up on a sofa and watches Romeo and Juliet for consolation. She brightens up and finishes a piece of coursework on statistics. I think of the statistics about the low number of A-C GCSEs that looked-after children get.

Take Lucy. Her GCSE grades slipped after a change of foster carer. She's writing about conflict. She tells me the computer system has crashed and the work is gone. She can easily remember what she's written and seems stoical. Worse things have happened to her.

Wednesday I take James and his mum to visit Sir Patrick Moore; a school trip with a difference. James holds his own with his encyclopaedic knowledge of space, although he can barely spell the words. Sir Patrick signs some books and gives them to James. I film the visit, and give him an oral mark for the interview.

James hasn't been to school since his father died. We're both obsessive guitarists and I introduce him to my electric model. He writes a song about his father, and calls it "Dad, why did you have to die?" It's brilliant.

Thursday No sign of Laura. She's been a "misper" - a missing person - for 48 hours. Holly rows with her key worker and storms out. She calms down after a good swear. She's thrilled with her results; she has an A and a B.

I think of the number of times she said "I can't do this work." Before Christmas, she refused to attend and wouldn't do any exams. She walked out of one, sticking up two fingers to her teacher.

Friday Holly's doing her oral assessment for literature coursework on Educating Rita, which seems appropriate. She does a brilliant take-off of Rita and I mark her for drama. My mobile phone rings. It's Laura; she's in the waiting room. She's lying curled up on the seats, having been waiting for an hour. She looks like she's been sleeping rough: greasy hair and dirty jeans tell the story. I don't ask her where she's been, or where her coursework is.

Jane Lamb works for Surrey County Council's Education Otherwise Than At School (EOTAS) and Looked After Children Project

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