I enjoyed my ‘door duty’ this morning.
Standing in the playground I have the opportunity to chat to parents and children as they come into school. We open the doors 20 minutes before school starts and the children come in as they arrive. This morning I had the chance to talk with a foster mum whose foster child has recently started with us. She is doing an amazing job holding together a very distressed little girl.
Door duty also gives us the chance to sweep up any issues that parents/carers have and to pick up any children that have come into school unhappy or hungry or tired or angry. This morning one of the boys from the support class (who has recently been reintegrated into his own class) came in clearly agitated about something. He refused to go into his classroom. He refused to go anywhere. He refused to talk.
This child is one of 3 and he is the middle one. He has a very limited vocabulary. He is outside all the time when he is not in school. There are no boundaries at home. At lunchtimes he and his brother will eat their food with their fingers, even baked beans and spaghehtti.
After much cajoling and coaxing he agreed to go to the Support class again instead of his own class. I thought that it was interesting that he seemed to see the support class as a secure base when he was feeling anxious and needed that security today. He had managed the separation from the Support class really well until today.
He seemed particularly vulnerable and I had the sense that something had happened last night or before school. There was no way he was going to tell anyone what it was.
I am interested that I am finding this post hard to write. Separation is hard to write about. So many of the children in the school are separated from one or other or both of their parents. So many of the parents and staff have their own separation issues. We are continually managing the emotional impact of this and as the Head you end up carrying it for everyone, in order that they can learn or teach. One of the ‘unspoken’ roles of Leadership is to carry the institution emotionally. This is the most difficult part of the job. You hold everyone together. Your staff ‘hold’ the children in mind. Your line managers ‘hold’ their team and you hold them. But also people come direct to you. When they are finding it hard to ‘hold’ their children or staff, you pick it up and contain it. You also hold the parents. My Deputy is a great support and between us we have to manage all this. But, however much you delegate, sometimes you are the only one who people want to talk to.
The impact of separation spills out in a variety of ways including poor behaviour, argument, inability to concentrate, depression, low self esteem and self harm to name a few. One of the children in the school, who was removed from her mother, writes letters to her in the back of her RE book.
On an almost daily basis we are dealing with parents who are in the process of separation, or who have separated with huge animosity and we are trying to pick up the pieces for the children in order that they can learn.
Given all of this, the approach of the end of the year and the impending separations that it brings with it, can become difficult to manage.