The story of one of my looked-after pupils still haunts me. I remember sitting around a large table in one of Glasgow’s social work offices with almost a dozen other professionals. Fourteen-year-old Paul had been excluded from school. His foster carers had handed in their notice – the exclusion was the last straw.
As the meeting drew to a close, we had to decide who was going to tell Paul that he could no longer attend his school and that he would have to move to new carers. I was the only constant person in his life, and I was just his teacher. No one claimed him; he didn’t belong to anyone.
“You cannot go back to your school and you will be moving from your home,” I told him.
The expression on Paul’s face was so still, he looked as if he had been frozen. In a barely audible voice he said: “If I am not going back to my school, I am not going to any school.”
Within a few months of that meeting, three more placements had broken down. Paul was then moved to a residential school.
Before he was looked-after, Paul's life had been very difficult. But it is when I think about what happened to him after he went into care that I become so angry. There were points along the way where Paul was making progress and overcoming the odds. I remember how proud he was when he raised money for a school in Malawi.
Although he was struggling, he had teachers that he trusted. And then his foster placement broke down through no fault of his own. Social services insisted that he move to a different school and that’s where his behaviour became unmanageable. There were too many changes and they were made too quickly. Social services said the cost of the taxi back to his old school was too much, yet Paul now lives in a residential school that costs £3,700 per week. That is more than 10 times what it cost to keep him with foster carers.
I am not just blaming the social workers. This is a systemic failure, and I believe we all bear some responsibility if we don’t challenge the kind of decision-making that jeopardises a young person’s future for the sake of saving a few pounds.
What keeps me awake is knowing there's a young man out there who once hoped that life could be better, and we could have made it work for him.
David Woodier is a support teacher in Coatbridge, Scotland