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We can give troubled kids a chance

Isn't it interesting how data and bureaucratic jargon can combine to create a highly questionable statement? Here, for example, is a sentence from a local authority term report on my school: "Your data does not demonstrate significant progress for pupils with learning difficulties."

Well, let's have a look at some of these children. Simon, for example. He is an infant and his home life is chaotic. His parents try hard, but they have real difficulty controlling the behaviour of Simon and his tiny sister. The family loves animals, but they can't control them either, and one of the dogs has taken to defecating in the corner. The children refuse to go to bed when they are told to or eat anything they don't like. Junk food and hideously coloured fizzy drinks are steadily damaging their teeth. They also refuse to leave the house, so Mum has a job getting Simon to school, occasionally breaking down in tears with us when she arrives very late. When he's actually in school, Simon is fine, but his speech and language are virtually non-existent, his motor skills are elementary and his ability to learn is extremely limited. Nevertheless, with the endless energy and determination of his teacher, things are improving, step by step, inch by inch. He is attending regularly now and we are quietly optimistic.

Jamin had attended three other schools before coming to us. His parents spend much of their time stoned out of their minds. Jamin gets himself up, dresses his little brother, inspects the cupboard on the off chance there might be something for breakfast, and then walks to school. It is hardly surprising that he eats large school lunches because it's unlikely he will get anything when he gets home.

At first, unsurprisingly, he was a nightmare. On his first day he climbed on to the playground apparatus and refused to come down. He was constantly aggressive towards adults and spat at other children. Again, the affection and interest shown in him by a succession of talented teachers worked wonders and now, four years on, he is a completely different child. It won't be long before he leaves us and I fear for his future, but at least we have given him a chance.

Eddie was the most difficult child we have ever had, and he, too, had attended other schools, announcing to us on his first day that nobody could control him. His advice to us was that we shouldn't even try. When I refused very firmly, he climbed up the hall wall bars, gesticulated obscenely at me and stayed there for the next hour. His older brother had already been expelled from secondary school and no doubt Eddie felt that he too was working towards this badge of honour. With this child, I thought, we might have met our match. But no, he was a bright little boy and he gradually realised that our school is an interesting place with lots of exciting things to do and that the teachers - all of them - care passionately about the children in their charge. He left for secondary school, but when the family moved to the Midlands his father brought him in to say goodbye. Eddie gave me an enormous hug and I was glad we had made so much effort. He has every chance of making a success of his life.

Two of these children will never set the world alight academically. They didn't slot into Ofsted's ludicrous "success" criteria of sub-level measurement and they won't get a bucketful of GCSEs at secondary school.

But "significant progress"? Well, if you told me they haven't made that, I would quote the late, great Ted Wragg and say that two words spring to mind. Bollocks, and utter.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London. Email:

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