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Too many troubled children, too little time

You might think that, as a teacher, the last thing I'd want to do is watch programmes about schools. But a number of them have been on television recently and I have found myself glued to the set.

These programmes are reassuring: what a relief to see pupils behaving worse than mine do, to see other teachers struggling to keep order and facing the horror of observations.

But what I find particularly gripping is watching teachers who battle on, however much trouble they have to deal with, confident that what they do is worthwhile. The best teachers show humour and resilience, and even the worst offenders respond to that. It reminds me of what teaching is all about.

What keeps me awake, though, are the stories of the pupils who cause mayhem, and the reasons why: the 13-year-old who lost both her mother and sister in the same year, the 12-year-old living with his grandfather because neither of his divorced parents wants him.

And it goes on - so many children rejected or neglected by those who should care for them. Full of deep anger and hurt, how can they concentrate in school when the rest of their world is in chaos?

Troubled pupils from every social background are becoming more and more common. Of course, their dysfunctional home lives do not excuse disruptive behaviour, but if we are to deal effectively with these children, helping them to achieve both academic success and some kind of peace of mind, we need time in which to do it.

Pupils who exhibit challenging behaviour are often berated for being attention-seeking. But why shouldn't they be? Many of them don't get time or attention from anyone else.

And so I lie awake, thinking about those pupils on TV and those I teach. I try to work out how I can claw time back from setting endless targets and recording endless assessments, to spend it instead with pupils who, with a bit of attention, could be so much happier and achieve so much more.

The writer is an English teacher in south-east England

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