Tough Choices

My school has been eerily quiet this week. Children and staff have been suffering from a particularly virulent flu strain and many have been at home. Those that are in have been rather subdued. We have had to cancel performances due to lack of children to act in them. Sad really, in what should have been a lovely week of joint celebration. We have, however, had enough children to sing in our choir and today they were out and about on the estate singing to the local community who loved them.

When I was having lunch with the children one came up to me to tell me that another child was swearing at someone. I asked the child to come and sit next to me. He seemed so small and so lost, struggling to cut up his baked potato. He was holding the cutlery in such an awkward way that he couldn’t really manage. I showed him how to hold the knife to make it easier to cut with. He tried it, then gave up and reverted to what he had been doing before. I said that it was ok and that it probably felt strange holding it a different way. He said nothing but looked at me with a strange smile. I noticed a few moments later that he had swapped hands again and was trying, and succeeding, to use the knife the way I had shown him. He persevered and grew in confidence. I commented that he seemed hungry. He nodded. I asked him if he had had any breakfast. He shook his head. I asked him if he would like me to talk to his mum about breakfast club. He nodded. I talked to him about the things that he had been saying to the other child. He seemed genuinely sorry and so I sent him out to play.

At the end of lunch I walked into our medical room and saw a quite distressed child sat there with a Lunchtime Play Supervisor trying to get him to tell her what had happened. It transpired that the child I had had lunch with had thrown him on the ground and tried to strangle him. I sent someone to bring the child up to me and the two boys accompanied me to my office.

When dealing with this sort of incident each child has a chance to tell their version of events and I usually start by asking them what rights have been denied. My children are used to the language of Rights Respecting and so are able to say straight away what rights they have denied and how. It makes it very straightforward to sort things out. The child admitted that he had hurt the other one and the two of them resolved the issue between them. I sent the hurt child back to class but kept the other one behind. There was such sadness in his eyes. I asked him if he was ok. He nodded. I said that I was worried about him as he was hurting others and happy children didn’t usually do that. He started to cry. He sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. Deep from inside his soul. I was aware that his parents have separated and that there are some issues around this. He wants to live with his dad. I talked a bit about how hard it was to make choices when we love both parents and that it was ok for him to want to live with his dad and it didn’t mean that he didn’t love his mum.

The impending holiday has brought this dilemma into sharp relief for this child and he simply can’t manage it and so is getting it out of his system by hurting others. I didn’t take him back to class. Instead he went to help with the Nursery Christmas party, which he loved. He seemed a bit lighter as we left my office and had stopped crying. He even gave me a smile as we chatted.

Once I had delivered him to Nursery I went to talk to my Pupil and Family Support worker. We added him to the list of children for her to support on a 1:1 basis after the holiday.

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3 Responses to Tough Choices

  1. unclejuncle says:

    whatever you are doing keep doing it you sound like just the sort of person to put in charge of the welfare of our kids.

  2. Wigginsbottom says:

    I left headship a year ago and when I read your account of Ofsted in the Guardian, it could have been written by me. In fact, all your musings echo with me profoundly as I, too, was a head in two deprived areas. It drives me nuts the way that people who wouldn’t have a snowball in hell’s chance of holding everything together the way you do can come in and pontificate about standards and requirements which have been drawn up by administrators who don’t have a clue about the situations faced by dedicated staff like you. I was always somewhat irritated by some of the smug attitudes shown by those who had chosen to work in middle class areas with supportive parents who had no idea of what faced heads in areas like yours/mine.
    When I trained with The Pacific Institute some 10 years ago, one of the most important lessons was “Think carefully about the credibility of someone giving you feedback. Is it someone whose views are relevant or worthwhile? Have they successfully done what you do? No? Then don’t allow their opinion to influence your view of yourself or your skills.”. This helped my thinking and emotions considerably in dealing with Ofsted, advisors, parents etc. – all those who are ready to criticise. Once I had to leave a meeting with an LEA Advisor to deal with an aggressive parent, shouting and swearing and threatening – we had to call the police to take her away. The Advisor looked stunned throughout – she just watched, open-mouthed while I dealt with it and I noticed a sea-change in her attitude towards me subsequently.
    I don’t give a S**T what the current Ofsted criteria are – you are an outstanding head! You are a champion of the disadvantaged and your school is lucky to have you. More power to your elbow. Pat yourself on the back, remind yourself that you are changing lives for the better and have a BRILLIANT Christmas break!

  3. Catherine says:

    keep being so humane and so loving. This is very sad indeed, and you sound like a really good Head.

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