What keeps me awake at night - Locked up and let down

1st July 2011 at 01:00
Anonymous views from education's front line

This week: a science teacher at a secondary school in the Midlands. At the end of a long dark path, hidden at the back of the school, surrounded by an eight-foot security fence, is the building the students know as "the Prison". If there ever was a place to use as a bogeyman to scare newly qualified teachers, the Prison is it.

The Prison is a behavioural inclusion unit. It looks a bleak and hostile place. On foggy days, and in the early winter mornings, as the light leaks from the shuttered windows, it looks like a sinister setting from a bad Disney film. It is where our school chooses to place those students who can't make it work in the main school building.

Designed as a short-term intervention to get the students turned around, it somehow became something else. The students were in it for months. The message of personal development became a whisper of "if that lot are in there, we can get on with things better". This "out of sight, out of mind" solution has, however, led to the creation of monsters.

So, it was on a dark and stormy day that I took my turn in the Prison. There were four students sat quietly round the table, and I felt I might just survive. Then there came a scraping from the roof. The wind blew a curtain away from an open window and I realised that during the changeover of staff, four of our most challenging students had escaped and were on the roof. We tried to coerce them down. We threatened them with the senior management team. We bribed them with cups of tea, but they were having none of it.

When the rain started they began to dance. When asked to come down to avoid getting wet they threw stones at us. Due to the danger, we retreated inside and called for a member of the SMT. They were in a meeting together and wouldn't come over, so I called the police. The trouble-makers got soaked, we stayed safe, and eventually the situation was resolved with the boys jumping the fence and running away when I told them the police were coming.

That the Prison is not working is obvious to many staff. The students are challenging before they go in, but in a concentrated group for any period of time, they become unbearable. They need personalised plans to support their needs, but instead they get a series of teachers leading activities to keep them busy. They need protective behaviours, and behaviour management work, but don't get it. Now some appear to be too far gone to be helped by the school, so the special educational needs co-ordinator will have her work cut out. I just hope that senior management have taken note of the concerns and failures and have some genius plans, but we will see.

To tell us what terrifies you or to share the unscripted events that have happened in your classroom, email michael.shaw@tes.co.uk.

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