What keeps me awake at night - Sara's dad said she was clumsy
This week: a governor and former primary teacher in the North of England
Sara was in my Year 3 class in the days before child protection was really on the agenda. When she didn't turn up at school, once again, I vaguely asked the class if anyone knew why. David said she had broken her arm. "In the bath," said Lisa. "How odd," I thought, and tried to imagine how you could break an arm in the bath.
Later, in a whisper, Liam said she had missed most of the autumn term because she had broken a leg. It finally occurred to me that this did not seem right (it was 1982 - we were a bit slower in those days).
I went to the local hospital and asked after the girl. The desk worker at AE disclosed more to me than they would today, with data protection and case conferences. The hospital had treated Sara and had been worried because of the leg, then the arm. They had also seen other members of the family. But her dad, Mr L, had explained what had happened and claimed Sara was clumsy. Sara was back at home now, but her mum was in the hospital having her eighth child.
Back at school, a colleague told me that Wayne, Sara's brother, had been off school as well. My headteacher wasn't interested. In those pre-Ofsted days nobody really bothered about non-attendance.
I phoned the NSPCC for advice. They contacted the local authority and a social worker visited Sara at home. Mr L showed the social worker a downstairs gym and said it was where the children got exercise, but that they sometimes fell and bruised themselves. He was trying to keep them healthy. The social worker was impressed.
The next Monday, Mr L appeared in school at 3pm. He was drunk and angry - some "fucking teacher" had reported him. Fortunately for me, the head stopped him before he reached me. Unfortunately, the head was angry at me for what I had done.
The end of the story? Mr L attacked his wife with an axe when she came out of hospital. When the house was examined, seven ropes and nooses were found in the attic. Each child had been shown "their" noose and warned that if they told anyone what happened at home they would be put in the noose.
It turned out that Wayne - aged nine - was being employed in the back kitchen of a restaurant. No wonder he rarely appeared in school. The family went into hiding when Mr L was sent to prison. He got about three years and, although I often think of the small and under-nourished Sara, I have no idea what happened to her or her siblings.
I would love to think that this is all in the past. Yet, as a governor of two primary schools, I know better. "Safeguarding" may now exist, but child neglect and cruelty continues and teachers and teaching assistants still weep, as I did, about the Saras and Waynes.
Frankly, if I had been handed a gun I would have shot Mr L.