There's a better place for Naomi

29th October 2004 at 01:00
She is in my office again, the fiercest of all inspectors. I listen to the complaints. The lessons are unsatisfactory. The teacher is weak. Discipline is poor.

There is a lack of focus. Aims and objectives are unclear. The pace is slow. Knowledge is neither tested nor consolidated.

And another thing - her book has not been marked for weeks. How can she progress if she isn't told where she is going wrong? For this is Naomi. She is not an inspector. She is far more important than that.

Naomi is in Year 11 and her life has been a succession of disasters. Hiding under a bed, protecting her brother while her mother attempted to murder their father. Her mother's imprisonment. Then the father in prison too.

Then his sudden death on his release.

These experiences have given her a purpose and anger against anyone who stands in her way. Often it is students. Sometimes teachers. Every moment in school is important to her and she has no patience with those who display a casual indifference. They might waste time. She has a burning desire to live a different life, to escape.

"Do you think I want to stay round here? In this shit-pit?" Her commitment is fierce. Her need obsessive. She has had enough of being a victim.

She is not alone. Many in our schools are damaged. They accept their lot, rejecting the possibility of change. But Naomi knows there is another world out there to which she has so far been denied access. A richer world, more fulfilling. She wants to be part of it.

She isn't naturally gifted but compensates through her relentless drive.

She is an unrelenting critic of teachers when they fall short of her expectations. As such, some find her a threat. When we fall from her high standards she tells us. But she has only one life and that is a mess. So what can she do? She can accept it. Let the circle remain unbroken. Or she can fight.

In so doing she shames us all. She shames her classmates who sit and giggle, her teachers who sometimes take it easy. She reminds us that we shouldn't ever short-change anyone. Our job carries responsibilities.

And in Naomi you can see why what we do is so important. Our job is not solely about targets or performance data. It is about setting Naomi free.

It is an honour to be part of her liberation.

Geoff Brookes is deputy head of Cefn Hengoed school, Swansea

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